Saturday, March 29, 2008

Mulligan called for in Basra

The Iraqi Army is unable to accomplish its objective, and given the swirl of rumors of Ayatollah Sistani getting ready to step in on the side of a negoatiated settlement that strengthens Sadr and that the Parliament (the place where political reconciliation is supposed to occur) is frozen. Maliki's gamble is not going well as CNN reports the obvious:

A closely held U.S. military intelligence analysis of the fighting in Basra shows that Iraqi security forces control less than a quarter of the city, according to officials in both the United States and Iraq, and Basra's police units are deeply infiltrated by members of radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's Mehdi Army.

"This is going to go on for a while," one U.S. military official said....

The Basra analysis also shows that militia forces control a wide swath of cities in Iraq's southeast, including areas near the airport, where British forces are located, the officials said.

More than 100 Iraqis have been killed in the fighting, including at least 14 in Baghdad's Sadr City neighborhood.

The fighting has sparked fears that a seven-month cease-fire by al-Sadr's Mehdi Army, regarded as a key factor in a dramatic drop in attacks in recent months, could collapse or that the U.S. military will have to bail out the Iraqis.

Remember, the Mahdi Army has never controlled all of Basra. Most pre-fighting estimates placed their zones of control at a bit more than half of the city. So the areas that the government controls are the ISCI/Badr neighborhoods and potentially the Fadillah neighborhoods, and minimal new ground. Dr. Steven Taylor is looking at the extension of the arms surrender demand deadline and uses some of his prodigious talents to analyze the events going on:
For those keeping score at home, the deadline for fighting to cease was set at 72 hours earlier in the week.

Using my finally honed political science powers, I would come to conclusion that this maneuver likely means that the Maliki government has realized that it cannot enforce the original deadline. Of course if that is true, it likely can’t enforce the new deadline, either.

Given that the United States has continued to maintain that this is a fight against out of control extremists and not the entire Mahdi Army or the Sadrist support system, MNF-I seems to want to de-escalate the situation and call for a mulligan on the entire operation. Whoops his bad is the preferred strategic option instead of forcing the entire question onto the horns of a triceratops style dilemma.

But what is past is also the present and the bed can not be unshit, not can single iterations change into the best three of five scenarios. Unless a massive negotiated settlement that significantly weakens Maliki is hammered out within the next week, this summer is looking to be a wild ride.