This will do for a metaphor of all that's gone wrong with Bush's Iraqi project:
The U.S. military raised its profile in Basra still further, providing protection for installations including the palace where al-Maliki is housed, Iraqi Interior Ministry officials said.This, mind you, in the middle of his most trusted and battle-ready division of troops.
The paragraphs of this McClatchy report that go before this remarkable admission about a puppet ruler and his unreliable army are hardly less troublesome.
After failing to break the resistance of Shiite militias in the five-day siege of oil-rich Basra, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki sent a top general to hold talks with his Shiite rival, Muqtada al-Sadr, on Saturday night only to be rebuffed by the anti-American cleric, an Iraqi official close to the negotiations said.The Dawa party has never had a major militia of its own, relying instead upon the Badr Brigades of its SCIRI ally, who make up the bulk of recruits to the 14th Army Division Maliki led into Basra. That it has apparently decided it now needs one says as little about Maliki's stability in power as his sending a negotiating emmisary to the Sadrists at the same time as he's publicly claiming there will be no negotiation and no backing down.
Al-Maliki denounced Shiite militants in Basra as the equivalent of al-Qaida, and al-Sadr told his supporters not to hand over their arms to a puppet state of the United States.
The diplomatic initiative and the harsh rebuff further eroded expectations for a successful outcome to the offensive, which al-Maliki is personally directing from the presidential palace in Basra. It was not the only sign of problems.
Al-Maliki issued orders Friday to enlist volunteers for the battle against the Shiite militias, and his Dawa party sought to enlist fighters.
The circumstances in which the negotiations with al-Sadr took place suggested the government is no longer able to dictate the terms of an agreement with al-Sadr but now must seek a deal. Gen. Hussein al-Assadi, a Baghdad-based commander, traveled to Najaf to call on the head of al-Sadr's political bureau there, Lewaa Smaisam.So much for the Surge. Baghdad's curfew is extended until further notice. Much of Basra - where US special forces are also now involved directly in the fighting - remains in the hands of Sadr's Mahdi militiamen.
From his office, the two men telephoned al-Sadr, who is believed to be in Iran. But they could not reach agreement, an official close to the negotiations said. He would not give his name due to the sensitivity of the subject.
Shortly after the talks broke down, the Iraqi government extended its curfew in Baghdad indefinitely. Earlier Saturday, al-Sadr directed his followers not to lay down their weapons, a snub of al-Maliki's offer to militias Friday to pay for arms if they would hand them over within 10 days.
The United States confirmed on Sunday that US special forces units were operating alongside Iraqi government troops in Basra, where the government is battling militants loyal to Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.Local Sadrist and Basra police (also likely Sadrist) sources are saying many of the casualties in this and other air strikes are civilians, of course. The US has played this game before, always claiming every dead body as a confirmed insurgent and every arrested one as a suspected insurgent. But the description for not having sufficient boots on the ground to take on a couple of hundred militiamen in a city of over two million, and thus relying on air power and artillery, is always going to be "collateral damage". Iraqi TV stations are describing dead civilians in this and other strikes as "martyrs".
A US military statement described a joint raid by Iraqi and US special forces units which killed 22 suspected militants, including "16 criminal fighters" strafed in an air strike on three houses.
The raid showed US forces are being drawn deeper into the Iraqi-led crackdown, launched on Tuesday by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki in Basra, Iraq's second-biggest city.
The Iraqi special forces team killed four suspected militants in a house and two on a roof before calling in the air strike, the statement said.
Meanwhile, the British have confined themselves to a checkpoint outside the city and one artillery strike in supprt of Maliki's forces.
"We've had ground forces outside the wire assisting Iraqi forces. There are no British ground forces inside the city of Basra," spokesman Major Tom Holloway said by telephone. "As yet there is no intent to push British armour into the city."The British military have worked out faster than the US that Maliki's politically-motivated offensive is designed to drag the occupying powers into providing continuing bodyguarding for his government and his own ass.