Monday, March 31, 2008

No More Fed Contracts For Big Blue

By Cernig

The Homeland Security Department’s Office of Procurement Operations has barred IBM from receiving any new government contracts or new orders under existing contracts, effective 28th March. The order to stop dealing with IBM appears to be connected to EPA complaints that IBM improperly obtained information about a contract it was bidding on from EPA employees.

IBM's main federal customers in the past have been the Homeland Security Department, Army, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and Defense Information Systems Agency. Those and other contracts were worth a total of $1.4 billion last year.

Which is great. Corrupt companies shouldn't be given a free pass to skim even more taxpayer's money. come IBM gets a ban but Boeing didn't?

Could it be that in the 2006 and 2008 cycles IBM gave by an almsot three to one margin to Democratic campaigns whereas Boeing has always favored the Republicans (until this year, at least)?


It must be that there aren't other huge aerospace companies just like Boeing that could have taken up the slack. Otherwise we'd have to go looking for ulterior motives in such un-evenhanded treatment.

(H/T BoingBoing)

The Primary Races In Graphics

By Cernig

For Libby, who is depressed that the Unity Elephant in the room keeps getting ignored by the media.

Basra And Beyond

By Cernig

There are a couple of worth-a-reads on the situation in Iraq today. I particularly recommend James Joyner:
The parallels between this action and the Israeli’s 2006 invasion of Lebanon to take on Hezbollah are striking. In both cases, the party that initiated the escalation into high level conflict inflicted substantial damage on their adversary and were able to claim military victory. At the same time, neither came anywhere close to achieving their political objectives. In assessing the 2006 action, I concluded that Israel therefore lost. Absent substantial new information, I’d have to conclude that Maliki was the loser here for the same reason.
While Kevin Drum, in two posts, draws attention to the Iranian connection. Following reports that senior Iraqi government negotiators were asking the Iranians to intercede with Sadr on Maliki's behalf even as Maliki was spouting his "never retreat, never surrender" rhetoric and claiming that the Sadrists were worse than Al Qaeda, Kevin writes:
the head of the Badr Organization sure does seem to have, um, remarkably speedy access to the head of Iran's Qods force, doesn't he? It's something to ponder the next time some Bush administration or U.S. Army spokesperson casually maligns Sadr as "Iranian backed" but maintains a discreet silence when it comes to the far deeper and longer-lived Iranian ties of Maliki's own Dawa/Badr alliance. Just sayin'.
and also gives his opinion on the winners and losers.
it was Maliki who went to Sadr, not the other way around, and that he did it several days ago. What's more, it was Sadr who laid down the conditions for an end to the violence, not Maliki. This is pretty plainly at odds with the theory that Sadr's statement was a show of weakness, a sign that he was taking more damage than he could stand and was desperate for a truce.

In urban warfare like this it's frequently hard to figure out who's "won" and who's "lost." Often both sides lose. In this case, though, it certainly looks as if Maliki has lost more than Sadr. Both sides have taken casualties, but Sadr doesn't appear to have lost any ground; he's forced Maliki to come to him to ask for terms; he's successfully projected a statesmanlike image throughout; and politically he seems to be in stronger shape than before. Maliki, conversely, appears by all accounts to have launched an ill-timed mission with inadequate troops and then been unable to close the deal. The Iraqi army and the redoubtable Gen. Mohan al-Furayji, the much lauded leader of the regular forces in Basra, are both looking pretty banged up in the bargain too.

This could all change tomorrow, but right now that's about where we stand. It's increasingly hard to see how the Basra offensive ends up being a plus for Maliki and his allies. Including us, unfortunately.
But looking beyond Basra today, it's Anthony Cordesman that provides the "must read".
Much of the reporting on this fighting in Basra and Baghdad — which was initiated by the Iraqi government — assumes that Mr. Sadr and his militia are the bad guys who are out to spoil the peace, and that the government forces are the legitimate side trying to bring order. This is a dangerous oversimplification, and one that the United States needs to be far more careful about endorsing.

There is no question that many elements of the Mahdi Army have been guilty of sectarian cleansing, that the Sadr movement is hostile to the United States, that some of its extremists have continued acts of violence in spite of the cease-fire Mr. Sadr declared last summer, and that some of these rogue elements have ties to Iran. No one should romanticize the Sadr movement, understate the risks it presents or ignore the violent radicals in the Mahdi Army.

But it is equally important not to romanticize Mr. Maliki, the Dawa Party or the Islamic Supreme Council. The current fighting, which the government portrays as a crackdown on criminality, is better seen as a power grab, an effort by Mr. Maliki and the most powerful Shiite political parties to establish their authority over Basra and the parts of Baghdad that have eluded their grasp.

Moreover, Mr. Maliki’s gamble has already dragged American forces part-way into the fight, including airstrikes in Basra. Striking at violent, rogue elements in the Mahdi Army is one thing, but engaging the entire Sadr movement is quite another. The official cease-fire that has kept the mainstream Mahdi Army from engaging government and United States forces may well be rescinded if the government’s assault continues.

This looming power struggle was all too clear when I was in Iraq last month. The Supreme Council was the power behind the Shiite governorates in the south and was steadily expanding its influence over the Iraqi police. It was clearly positioning itself to counter Mr. Sadr’s popular support and preparing for the provincial elections scheduled for Oct. 1.

American military and civilian officials were candid in telling me that the governors and other local officials installed by the central government in Basra and elsewhere in southern Iraq had no popular base. If open local and provincial elections were held, they said, Dawa and the Islamic Supreme Council were likely to be routed because they were seen as having failed to bring development and government services.
He calls the situation "a civil war Iraq can't win" - and if the Iraqi people, as opposed to the power-players, won't be winners then you can be pretty certain that the US occupation isn't going to come out ahead either.

So far, it appears that the widespread open Shiite civil war that it looked like Maliki had begun is again on the backburner - for now - but Cordesman's analysis of the situation still provides the underlying warp and weft going forward into regional elections. That underlying power struggle will find its expression somehow, somewhere. My guess is that, having tried and failed to harness the power of the State to impose their own rule, the Dawa and SIIC parties will now turn to militias and ballot-rigging to try to salvage their positions before the regional elections. That in itself might well re-ignite violence on a larger scale but what is certain is that there's no defusing this slow-burn civil war.

Cordesman also notes the other two main currents in Iraq which could also flare into violence:
One is that the Sunni tribes and militias that have been cooperating with the Americans could turn against the central government. The second is that the struggle among Arabs, Kurds, Turkmen and other ethnic groups to control territory in the north could lead to fighting in Kirkuk, Mosul or other areas.
and while everyone has had their attention on the South, it's worth noting Walter Pincus in the WaPo who has kept watching the Sunni "Awakening" and writes that the US is increasingly uncertain about the future of the "Sons of Iraq".
At a Pentagon briefing last Wednesday, the commander of the 4th Stryker Brigade Combat Team in Diyala province, Col. Jon Lehr, told reporters via videoconference that the Sons of Iraq "are not a permanent security solution," although, he added, "they have been an integral part of our strategy." Lehr put it last week, "not all Sons of Iraq are created equally." In Diyala, the local Sons of Iraq groups have split in two. "One is a tribally based," he said. "They tend to be associated with rural areas . . . [and] are there to protect their villages. " The other half, which he described as "the politically based ones," are in Baqubah, the province's main city of about 300,000, which less than a year ago was considered an al-Qaeda-driven battleground.

Baqubah's Sons of Iraq came from the 1920s Revolutionary Brigade, which earlier had been responsible not only for killing American soldiers but also for kidnapping a U.S. Marine. Others are from Hamas in Iraq, a Sunni insurgent faction that had broken away from the 1920s Brigade. And there are also some from mujaheddin made up of former Saddam Hussein loyalists.
That divide isn't getting much attention in op-ed columns - just as trhe Shiite divide didn't until it exploded in open conflict. And US officers seem divided on the future of the Awakening going forward too.
The question now is what happens to the Sons of Iraq in the long run. "They were a means to an end," Lehr said. "So what we're attempting to do right now is find employment for the men." He said some could be absorbed into Iraqi security forces -- primarily the police and some in the army.

But Gen. David H. Petraeus, interviewed on National Public Radio on March 19, the fifth anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion, was more cautious. "There are understandable concerns on the part of a government that is majority Shiite that, what they [would be] doing was hiring former Sunni insurgents, giving them a new lease on life, and that when this is all said and done they may turn against the government or the Shiite population," he said.

Col. Michael Fuller, chief of staff of the Multi-National Security Transition Command-Iraq, gave a different view during a Pentagon news conference Thursday. "Many of them are not qualified physically to join the Iraqi security forces because they're old, they're infirmed -- whatever the case may be." Nonetheless, he said he expects the Baghdad government to incorporate about 20 percent of them into the Iraqi security forces over time.

For the rest, said Fuller, whose job is to help the Iraq Defense and Interior ministries develop their forces, the government is "looking at programs much like our vo-tech schools, to get them trained . . . [so] they have a viable employment alternative that will keep them off the streets and out of criminal activities, if that's all they feel like they've got to fall back on."

"Conceptually," he added, the government of Iraq has agreed to begin picking up the costs associated with the Sons of Iraq. "We've just got to make sure that we have the conditions set to make sure they do it successfully and it doesn't become something that causes the Sons of Iraq to quit what they're doing," he said.

Petraeus, however, had the final word. In the end, he said, the Sons of Iraq would stay loyal to the course the United States has set "as long as it is in their interests."
Does anyone actually believe that the leaders of the "political" and "tribal" currents of the Awakening will regard having their forces cut to a fifth of their present strength, while the rest become street-sweepers and mechanics, will be in their own interests - especially given the evidence this last week that Maliki and his allies are quite willing to co-opt State military force to attempt to further theirs? Well, maybe some of the US cheerleading set do - but the rest of us should be looking for yet another explosive fracture at some stage in the future.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Clinton's internet ignorance

By Libby

Frank Rich looks at the Bosnia debacle and ruminates on how the Clinton campaign shot themselves in the foot by ignoring the reality of the intertubes age.
That Mrs. Clinton’s campaign kept insisting her Bosnia tale was the truth two days after The Post exposed it as utter fiction also shows the political perils of 20th-century analog arrogance in a digital age. Incredible as it seems, the professionals around Mrs. Clinton — though surely knowing her story was false — thought she could tough it out. They ignored the likelihood that a television network would broadcast the inevitable press pool video of a first lady’s foreign trip — as the CBS Evening News did on Monday night — and that this smoking gun would then become an unstoppable assault weapon once harnessed to the Web.
I've been thinking about this myself for a while now. The campaign has done an incredibly poor job of employing the internet to further their narrative and seems to fail to recognize its power. I don't get why. As far as I know, Peter Daou is still their internet guru and surely he's one of the best. A really savvy player who understands the rules of the game well. Their internet outreach should be stellar. It's not.

All I can think is that Clinton and Penn and the rest of the 'leading' advisors of the campaign are ignoring his advice. There's really no other explanation.

The Texas two step bows to its partner

By Libby

Burnt Orange Report seems to have the most comprehensive coverage and is reporting that Obama is winning the second step conventions with 56.05% to Clinton's 43.95% with 46.13% of the Texas conventions confirming their counts. This represents 72.31% of the total delegate count so it seems unlikely that the totals will change significantly.

Meanwhile, the party honchos are overwhelmed by the turnout.
A weary Mr. West conceded that the process had flaws. In his convention, a computer system went down, a woman fainted and it was discovered that the delegates from some precincts were never recorded into the system.

"It's a nightmare," he said at one point. "The system wasn't designed for all these people. The process is a nightmare."
What a sad statement on the state of our electoral system that it's not prepared to deal with actual participation by the voters. The system is geared to voter apathy and power-brokered nominations. Revamping the primary system should surely be high on the list of priorities on the DNC's agenda come mid-November so we don't have to live through this hellish chaos again.

And in another stray thought, didn't Bill Clinton say that unless Hillary won Texas with a big blowout victory, that her candidacy would end? I'm not suggesting she necessarily do so, just recalling the rhetoric.

Obama shows his class

By Libby

I don't want to get into a electability argument but by any reasonable metric I've seen, Obama is leading in this race, even if only slightly, so I think this is really gracious.
“My attitude is that Senator Clinton can run as long as she wants,” Mr. Obama, of Illinois, said at a news conference in a high school gymnasium here. “Her name is on the ballot. She is a fierce and formidable opponent, and she obviously believes she would make the best nominee and the best president.”
I hope the overheated partisans on both sides will take his lead and similarly take a hard left onto the high road in the days to come.

The neverending primary

By Libby

When the WaPo editorializes in favor of an extended Democratic primary, my first instinct is to be against it. After all they're careful not to endorse anyone and hint that they might eventually endorse McCain, as one might expect considering their relentless cheerleading for Bush over the years. Nonetheless this is good point.
The list of issues to hash out is endless, and doing so in polite political combat could produce a stronger Democratic candidate for the fall and a better-informed electorate.
I'd be happy to see the race go on but only if the Democrats run by highlighting their differences with McCain instead of each other. The electorate needs to see how they will run against the Republican and an extended race under those circumstances would keep the attention on the issues and the Democrats but would leave both candidates strong for the general, no matter which one prevails. If they can't find a way to do that however, somebody has to find a way to end this quickly before we end up saluting President McCain in January.

Breaking - Sadr Plays "Good Guy" Card [Updated]

By Cernig

There's breaking news that Muqtada has issued a nine point statement, the most immediately important of which is the one ordering his supporters to stop attacking government forces and clear the streets.

The BBC:
Mr Sadr's statement said: "Because of the religious responsibility, and to stop Iraqi blood being shed, and to maintain the unity of Iraq and to put an end to this sedition that the occupiers and their followers want to spread among the Iraqi people, we call for an end to armed appearances in Basra and all other provinces.

"Anyone carrying a weapon and targeting government institutions will not be one of us."

The cleric also demanded that the government apply the general amnesty law, release detainees, and stop what he called illegal raids. [Emphasis Mine - C]
I wonder if "cat herder" Sistani's managed to pull of the improbable again, or if this is entirely a manouver of Sadr's own making?

Some will claim this is a Sadr climb-down. I doubt he cares much what the American Right thinks, though. For others, following on from a reported snub of the guy Maliki sent to try to get Sadr to negotiate on Maliki's terms, and his statement to his followers not to hand over their weapons, this will be seen as Sadr trying to claim the moral high ground while still retaining the ability to start up hostilities again if needed. Obviously, the Mahdi Army's stand-down is conditional on Maliki standing down his own forces too. Since Sadr was always the one saying they should ceasefire and talk, while Maliki's been strong on the "never give up, never surrender" rhetoric the last five days, it's also obvious who Iraqis will think "won" if Maliki complies.

Update It looks like Maliki will indeed comply.
Spokesman for the Iraqi government Ali Al-Dabbag, in a press release, said the government welcomed this call which would serve to avoid bloodshed, adding that this reflected Al-Sadr's keenness for maintaining the safety of civilians. Security is the responsibility of the government, and the government does not target a certain movement or faction, he stressed, hoping that the Sadrist bloc would support the government.
The BBC report above is a little unclear on Sadr's terms too - what he's calling for is that the government stop arrest raids against his followers, release those in detention and grant them an amnesty.

What the Western media are less keen, seemingly, to report are Sadr's other demands. The Roads To Iraq website writes:
After the killing of Maliki’s security adviser “Hassan Al-Kadhmi” by Mahdi Army in Basra today and according to Wasat Online, the Iraqi government and the Sadrists reached an agreement of nine points...the newspaper says that among the points is the withdrawal of the Iraqi and American forces from Basra, stop the raids against the Sadrists, Maliki to return to Baghdad in 48 hour followed by the ministers [Defense and Interior]. [Emphasis Mine - C]
FOX News only notes that "The Iraqi government lauded al-Sadr's orders, saying 'This is a positive statement,' according to Reuters." If this is a positive statement then Maliki has indeed climbed all the way back down, with five out of nine points covering a humiliating withdrawal back to Baghdad with his tail between his legs.

Update 2 Via 'Axt113' in comments - Hazem al-Araji, an aide to Sadr, told reporters in Najaf that "We confirm that there were guarantees taken from the Iraqi government to fulfill all the points in this statement." Even the one about Maliki leaving Basra, trailed by his Ministers? Wow.

Maliki chased out of Basra by Mookie - who'd a thunk it?

Update 3 Oh look, the cheerleading US Right wants to try painting this as Sadr suing for peace rather than facing extinction. To them, it's Maliki's victory over criminal militias. Of course, they aren't mentioning the amnesty/release, the end of attacks by government and US forces even though the Mahdi militia retains its guns (and other militias weren't touched at all), or Maliki's ignominious banishment to Baghdad. "Imagine my surprise..."

Update 4 There are reports that the Iraqi government is promising to fight on in Basra:
IRAQI troops will continue their six-day-old military operation in Basra despite a call by Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr for his followers to stop fighting, government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said overnight.

"The operation in Basra will continue and will not stop until it achieves its goals. It is not targeting the Sadrists but criminals," Mr Dabbagh said.
It remains to be seen whether they will actually do so, or whether they will observe the reported 48 hour withdrawal timeline after clobbering a couple of local minor gangs, or recalcitrant Sadrists who might defy Muqtada, to save face. Certainly, they expect there to be no more violence in Baghdad by Monday, as they've announced that they'll lift the capital's curfew then after just yesterday saying it would continue indefinitely. Let's be clear, though, if they attack the mainstream Mahdi Army again then Sadr's offered deal would be off and the fighting would flare up anew. That fighting would necessarily mean even heavier US involvement.

Steve Soto explains the dynamics of that part of Sadr's offer.
Having made his point that the Mahdi Army could fight the Iraqi security forces to a draw while encouraging a united front among Shiites and Sunnis against the American occupation, Muqtada al-Sadr pivoted today and asked his forces to suspend military operations in Basra and all other provinces in order to preserve Iraqi unity. His commanders are apparently still allowed to self-defend themselves and their forces, and the order comes after al-Sadr's forces drove the government from a TV station in Basra.

Al-Sadr knows that he and his forces cannot win a face-to-face battle with American forces and air power, and that attempting to engage in such a prolonged battle is a recipe for decimation and destruction of Iraqi cities. He's daring al-Maliki to still come after him, and to put an American face on that destruction.
I'm seeing a lot of talk about "victors don't make offers" on Rightwing blogs. But they do if they see a clear way to make a political and electoral killing thereby.
“With this statement, Sayyed Moktada al-Sadr proved that he is a good politician, working for the sake of Iraq,” said Mahmoud al-Mashadani, the speaker of the Iraqi Parliament and a senior Sunni politician.
War is simply an extension of politics, as Von Clauswitch explained. They might try turning it the other way. Victors don't accept a demand to quit the field of their victory within 48 hours, releasing their prisoners as they go.

Update 5 Badger at Missing Links has a translation of Sadr's statement and I've been too hasty in accepting Roads To Iraq's version by the looks of it.
Based upon our responsibilities in law [shariah] and for the sparing of Iraqi blood and for the protection of the reputation of the Iraqi people, and for their unity both in terms of people and in terms of land, and in preparation for its independence and liberation from the armies of oppression; and in order to put out the fires of fitna which the occupier and his followers wish to keep burning between Iraqi brothers, we call upon the beloved Iraqi people to measure up to their responsibility and their consciousness of law in sparing blood and preserving peace in Iraq, and its stability and its independence.

The following is resolved:

(1) Ending armed manifestations in the governate of Basra and all the other governates

(2) Ending of attacks and arbitrary illegal arrests

(3) Demand on the government to apply the law on general amnesty, and release all prisoners who had not had charges confirmed against them, and particularly prisoners belonging to the Sadrist trend

(4) We announce that we will renounce those who carry weapons and target the government and service agencies and institutions, or [political] party offices

(5) Cooperation with government agencies to bring about security and to charge those who commit crimes, according to legal [qanuniya] process

(6) We affirm that the Sadrist movement does not possess heavy weapons

(7) Efforts for the return to their residential areas of those who were forced out on account of security incidents

(8) We demand respect for human rights by the government in all of its security actions

(9) Working for the realization of development and services projects in all governates
I've made too much of the "out of Basra in 48 hours" claim by trusting Roads To Iraq, unless it's part of the understanding but not Sadr's statement. Still, the statement is clear that Sadr expects Maliki to stand down - an "Ending of attacks and arbitrary illegal arrests" - and grant amnesty to all Mahdi Army detainees, otherwise the deal is off. Badger, who is a Sadrist by admission, writes that "He gives up nothing: no weapons, no people, no territory. He's won an important round." Reports in the US press also have it that a team of senior Iraqi government types journeyed to Iran to meet Sadr to negotiate - not the actions of a government determined to wipe out a group which is a "greater threat than Al Qaeda". Badger appears to think Maliki may have come under pressure from the US to cut a deal for stability. That's certainly possible, despite Bush's rhetoric of backing Maliki 100%.

In The Midst Of His Army, Maliki Guarded By US Soldiers

By Cernig

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.

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 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.
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.

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.
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.
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.

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.
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".

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.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Will The Iraqi Army Please Stand Up?

By Cernig

As Maliki's offensively political offensive bogs down in Basra, the Associated press looks at the long tale of the Iraqi Army's failure to stand up so that US forces can stand down - mostly due to dribbling and pissing resources against the wall on the part of the Bush administration.
Iraq's new army is "developing steadily," with "strong Iraqi leaders out front," the chief U.S. trainer assured the American people. That was three-plus years ago, the U.S. Army general was David H. Petraeus, and some of those Iraqi officials at the time were busy embezzling more than $1 billion allotted for the new army's weapons, according to investigators.

The 2004-05 Defense Ministry scandal was just one in an unending series of setbacks in the five-year struggle to "stand up" an Iraqi military and allow hard-pressed U.S. forces to "stand down" from Iraq.

The latest discouraging episode was unfolding this weekend in bloody Basra, the southern city where Iraqi government forces - in their toughest test yet - were still struggling to gain the upper hand in a five-day-old battle with Shiite Muslim militias.

Year by year, the goal of deploying a capable, freestanding Iraqi army has seemed always to slip further into the future. In the latest shift, with Petraeus now U.S. commander in Iraq, the Pentagon's new quarterly status report quietly drops any prediction of when homegrown units will take over security responsibility nationwide, after last year's reports had forecast a transition in 2008.

Earlier, in January last year, President Bush said Iraqi forces would take charge in all 18 Iraqi provinces by November 2007. Four months past that deadline, they control only half the 18.

Responsibility for these ever-unfulfilled goals lies in Washington, contends retired Maj. Gen. Paul D. Eaton, who preceded Petraeus as chief trainer in Iraq.

"We continue to fail to properly resource and build the very force that will enable a responsible drawdown of our forces," Eaton told The Associated Press.

Retired Gen. Barry R. McCaffrey, a West Point professor and frequent Iraq visitor, also sees insufficient "energy" in the U.S. effort. "Even now, there is no Iraqi air force; there's no national military medical system; there's no maintenance system," he told a New York audience on March 13.
That failure is partly incompetence, part deliberate failure to provide Iraqi forces with the equipment they need to act independently of an American logistic and heavy firepower tail. Thus, in all major operations, the tail has been able to wag the dog.

By late 2005, the U.S. command had to acknowledge that only one of 86 Iraqi army battalions was ready to fight on its own.

The Iraqis still were not given artillery, big mortars or other heavy weapons. Iraq's political unpredictability and dangerous sectarian-political divides clearly made the Americans wary that heavy weapons might be turned against them, concludes Arab military analyst Nizar Adul Kader.

"This could have been one of the fears that Americans had to take into consideration," said Kader, a retired Lebanese major general.

...The Iraqi military's list of unmet needs remains long: artillery and modern armor; advanced communications and intelligence systems; a logistics network able to supply everything from food and fuel to transport and ammunition; combat hospitals; airpower.

"This is not a balanced fighting force," said al-Qassab, the retired Iraqi general. "It's only people armed with assault rifles and pickup trucks and they go and raid like a militia."

The Iraqis and Americans are working to make Iraqi logistics self-sufficient by mid-2009. But as for "fire support," training command spokesman Lt. Col. Dan Williams said, "heavier artillery is still a ways down the road."

Regarding Iraq's tiny air force, a handful of helicopters, old transports and light planes, "in my opinion, we were late to start on this," Air Force Maj. Gen. Robert R. Allardice told the AP last June, as he took over aviation training in Baghdad.

Today, as he leaves the command, Allardice confirms there are still no plans for modern jet fighters for the Iraqis, only small, propeller-driven attack planes.
Iraq has been thus rendered unsovereign, a mere Satrapy, unable to conduct its own defense against other nations. Now, we're seeing that it's unable to conduct it's own internal security - still - as well.

The 14th Division, the main formation in Maliki's attack on the Sadrists of Basra, was recruited from the Basra area itself and is mainly composed of Badr Brigade militia inducted wholesale into the Army. It has been preening itself in Diwaniyah, Kerbala and Najaf ever since, given the prestigious but job of guarding the main Basra-Baghdad rail corridor and the Holy Cities. It's being commanded by Maliki's own brother-in-law. But this Praetorian Guard has only the very lightest of Eastern European armored trucks as it's main personnel carriers, few tanks, and no heavy artillery.

This comparatively crack division, probably the only one Maliki could be so sure of mainly staying loyal, has proven utterly inadequate to the task given it. That's partly a problem of "balance of forces", as Fester so ably pointed out the other day, but it is also a legacy of American failures and deliberate policies which have left the Iraqi Army emasculated and little more than a well-equipped militia itself.

Unless the Bush administration and the Maliki government were deep in denial, believing their own PR on how wonderful the Iraqi Army now was, then they had to be at least somewhat aware of all this. So they must have known from the very first that Maliki's offensive would need American rescuing. That means, since it went ahead anyway, that they considered that rescuing a feature, not a bug.

Tribal values

By Libby

Dan at Pruning Shears has an interesting post this week. He wonders why the big Second Amendment proponents aren't more concerned about domestic surveillance. That's a point I've been making as well to the occassional winger who drops into my own little blog to misdiagnose me with BDS. I ask them why they don't realize that if the government decided to disarm the populace, the massive database they now have accumulated would allow them to pinpoint what guns they own, down to how much ammunition they have on hand. None of them have answered that question yet.

But Dan goes on to ruminate on the current acrimony that inexplicably permeates Blogtopia(y!sctp). This strikes me as about right.
Maybe I have been oblivious to it all my life, but it seems that the razor-thin and contested election in 2000 and terrorist attack the following year either created or revealed tribal identities that had gone unnoticed for a long time. Many retreated into territories defined by politics and religion. In this historic primary season it has happened again, now along racial and gender lines. It isn’t absolute by any means, just much more clearly marked. All of it is driven by group identification, and in that sense it comes from a level too low to be reached by persuasion. It may be dressed up in formal clothes, sober tones, a big vocabulary and impressive rationalizations, but much of the time what passes for dialog seems to come from some of our most primitive instincts.
It seems to me what's happening falls short of a mob mentality certainly, but might rightly be called what used to be termed group think, meaning one becomes so involved in an organizational effort that it obliterates the logical filters that would ordinarily temper one's thinking.

The trial of Osama's driver

By Libby

I suppose the law of averages would dictate that a tiny handful of the Gitmo detainees really are high value inmates, worthy of prosecution, but judging from the outcomes of the previous miltary hearings that pose as judicial review, I'd say not many of them really are players that deserved the draconian punishment they now suffer. Not that this will deter the administration from trying to make them so. Take for example, Osama's driver.
The Navy lawyer for Osama bin Laden's driver argues in a Guantánamo military commissions motion that senior Pentagon officials are orchestrating war crimes prosecutions for the 2008 campaign.
Notably, it describes a Sept. 29, 2006, meeting at the Pentagon in which Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England, a veteran White House appointee, asked lawyers to consider Sept. 11, 2001, prosecutions in light of the campaign.

''We need to think about charging some of the high-value detainees because there could be strategic political value to charging some of these detainees before the election,'' England is quoted as saying.
You'll remember it was this particular political interference that led to the resignation of Air Force Col. Morris Davis, who served as former chief Pentagon prosecutor. But even leaving aside the untoward political machinations for a moment, it defies logic to cast the driver as a mastermind in any AQ plots. In any criminal enterprise, isn't the driver usually the one who's too out of the loop to be trusted with any part of the operation except driving the car? One doubts he was privy to any high level meetings. More likely he would be left waiting in the car.

I mean think about it. Isn't that like holding Hilter's limo driver responsible for the Holocaust? Maybe Hamdan was even a loyal and willing soldier in the AQ organization but the only thing high value about him is likely to be his political value to the GOP in timing his prosecution to influence the election cycle.

Life is funny

By Libby

I'm fighting the effects of too much sleep this afternoon. I spent ten solid hours, catching up on lost REM time and dreaming heavily, mostly about politics, which left me more exhausted than refreshed. So I'm having a hard time warming up to the news today but this post at Buck Naked Politics amused me and provides the quote of the day.
"President Bush talked about having a road map to peace. It took him seven years to take it out of the glove compartment." ~Madeline Albright
Great line. I think Albright may be wasting her talents in academia. Maybe she should be writing monlogues for the late night comics.

Basra Blowback

By Cernig

Well, just recently people on the Right were asking why Iraq was off the front pages "now that there's only good news". I bet they wish they'd not tempted fate. They didn't really listen to Petraeus and others who said that the lull in violence could so very easily be a transient one and that the transience was caused by various currents of non-reconciliation upon which the "window" was almost closed.

Now, with Nour al-Maliki playing Napoleon in Basra, alongside his brother-in-law general, stability in Iraq is unravelling with remarkable speed - a shock and awe attack on assumptive victory pronouncements. No-one could have anticipated this - other than those of us who did, frequently, and months ago.

Maliki's assault on the Sadrists, painted as a general assault on "criminal militias", but somehow managing to leave his SIIC/Badr Brigade allies well alone, is failing badly. Everywhere, the Mahdi Army are holding their own territories and even expanding the fight into new towns and neighbourhoods. Given the unreasonably small force with which Maliki launched his assault, and the estimated 60% penetration of the region's police by the Mahdi Army which has led to widespread desertions, Fester and I are convinced that Maliki had a good idea this would happen. His main purpose in mounting the assault was to ensnare US occupation forces into stepping into the lead, battling Sadr's forces for him and for his SIIC allies.

That leaves the US with no good options in the South, even if commanders had little choice but to get Maliki's back from the front.
"The key question now is what the United States is going to do," said Joost Hiltermann, of the International Crisis Group think tank. "If it allows (the crackdown) to go forward the ceasefire will unravel and the U.S. will face the Sadr movement in its full power."

"This will be bad for both sides. Sadr will lose men and the United States will lose the gains of the surge".

...Analysts say Maliki's decision to launch the Basra crackdown, instead of carrying through with a promised offensive against Sunni Islamist militants in the northern city of Mosul, lends weight to the Sadrist accusations of a political agenda.
Oh yeah, Mosul. While it's been getting almost no press in the States, there's been a major battle going on there too for months which has seen violence rise to a 2-year high with no end in sight and several reports suggest the fighting is against a wider-based insurgency than one composed just of the rump of AQI's presence. Let's not forget, too, that Turkey is still shelling and bombing Kurdish Iraq, and will be back over the border in force as soon as the Spring Thaw sets in. Between these and other prior commitments, the US will be lucky if it can shake loose three brigades to help Maliki's crackdown. They'll be going in essentially blind.
"This is a precarious situation," a senior official familiar with U.S. intelligence in southern Iraq said, with "a lot to be gained and a lot to lose." This official and others said that even as Maliki takes needed military action in Basra, he appears to be positioning himself and his Shiite political allies for dominance in provincial elections this fall.

Competition for power and resources in the oil-rich south has been ongoing for months among the Mahdi Army of Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr; the Badr Corps militia of the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, the largest single party in the Iraqi parliament; and the breakaway Sadrist movement known as Fadhila. The Shiite groups are opposed and allied with each other in a tangle of national and local issues, with many divisions reflected in factions of the Shiite-dominated Iraqi security forces.

Although the Bush administration has tried to monitor the growing conflict in Basra, Iraq's second-largest city, "our intelligence in that area is far less than we would like. We don't have any forces there," the senior official said, adding that "we are operating with a good dose of opaqueness."

As outlined by several civilian and military officials, none of whom was authorized to speak on the record, a victory in Basra against what Bush described as "those who believe they are outside the law" could prove Maliki's mettle. "Basra's been a mess for a long time," said a U.S. official in Baghdad, "and everybody's said to Maliki, 'What are you doing about it?' "

But this official and others said that if the fighting in Basra leads to a breakdown in the cease-fire observed since August by the bulk of Sadr's forces elsewhere in the country, it could easily shatter the tenuous U.S. security gains of recent months.
Indeed, the Sadrist insurrection which has followed Maliki's assault now controls many towns athwart the main route of supply for US forces, up from Saudi Arabia - and insurgent troops can take potshots at supply trucks all day every day if needed.

Yet, despite all this, there are good reasons to be sceptical of leaks from the White House suggesting the administration had no idea Maliki was going to bring his offensive forwards three months and thus pre-empt any moves by Sadr (and perhaps Petreaus, who has been getting along well with "Seyyed" Muqtada of late) which might have made it unneccesary.

Nor should the US be looking to the UK to provide anything but base security at the Basra Airport, probable home of US forces sent to bail out Maliki's division of Badr Brigade militiamen in Iraqi Army uniforms. While British politicians are under intense pressure from the US to commit their three available battlegroups – each of about 650 men armed with Challenger 2 tanks and Warrior armoured vehicles – the British military is implaccably opposed to such intervention.
"It's ridiculous for Britain's position in Iraq that we've got this firepower down there and we're not willing to help the Iraqis out," the British official said. "The army won't even listen to suggestions it might be needed."
Maliki, too, is seeing political blowback froom his hasty move - and his governemnt is busy painting itself into a corner even as contrary voices mobilize. His foreign minister has told the Arab Council that there will be no walking back or negotiated settlement. Maliki himself has today gone as far as to call the Sadrists worse than Al Qaeda and promise no surrender or negotiation. But there are reports that Grand Ayatollah Sistani (or the "cat-herder", as Eric likes to call him) is backing calls for negotiations instead of Maliki's intransigence - a new development in Shiite inter-relations and one that seriously weakens Maliki's postion.
The scale of the outcry has forced Grand Ayattollah Sistani to call for a peaceful solution to the conflict, even though his various spokespeople initially supported the assault. By Friday, government officials were falling over themselves to get to TV stations to declare that the fighting was not against the Sadr movement at all. With an eye on the sentiment and reality on the streets, some officials even heaped praise on Sadr, insisting the conflict was with "ordinary criminals".
I saw a report earlier that even Iraqi President Talibani is saying there must be negotiations, but I've lost the link. A senior Iranian cleric, the leader of that country's Guardian Council, has also said that the opposing groups should negotiate an end to their clashes - which seems to put paid to the notion floated by the Saudi-controlled Arabic press that Iran had cut Muqtada loose and green-lighted SIIC and Dawa as their main allies and proxies in Iraq to take the Sadrists out. The Iraqi parliament tried to have a session calling for negotiation, one backed by Sunnis as well as Sadrists - but Dawa and SIIC representatives walked out en masse, leaving them quorumless. Perhaps calls from Sadrist MP's to try Maliki "like Saddam" had something to do with that, perhaps they simply wanted to forestall any notion that they didn't have a national mandate for their parties' self-serving actions.

Maliki is now in a position whereby he might - might - be able to win or stalemate the battle with American assistance, but there's no way he can win the political war he's started. He will either fall or be forced to painfully backtrack to negotiate a settlement which will favor Sadr more than it does himself. He's toast and Sadr, despite the many op-eds written over the last four years claiming the opposite, very much isn't. It remains to be seen how fast the Bush administration. always slow to see the blindingly obvious, catch on to this fact.

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.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Signs Of Turkish Front Heating Back Up

By Cernig

As if US and Iraqi government forces didn't have enough troubles in Southern Iraq, there are signs that the Northern border may be heating up again.

After Turkish crackdowns on Kurdish protesters recently, the PKK have vowed to retaliate. And now there are signs that the Turkish military are gearing up to mount a major offensive after the Spring thaw, following up on their reconnaissance in force in February:
A convoy of 250 Turkish military trucks and civilian buses is headed toward the border with Iraq, nearly a month after a Turkish cross-border operation against Kurdish rebels, a news agency reported Thursday.

The vehicles approached the border village of Derecik in Hakkari province on Wednesday evening, Dogan news agency said. The vehicles traveled with their headlights off, according to a news agency reporter who saw the convoy.

Helicopters also ferried dozens of troops to the border from the town of Semdinli on Thursday morning, Dogan said.

It was the largest reported activity by the Turkish military near the Iraqi border since Turkey ended an eight-day incursion into Iraq on Feb. 29.

Protestors Will Be Tried Under Iraq Anti-Terror Laws

By Cernig

The Iraqi government's spokesman Ali al-Dabagh has promised that anyone taking up Muqtada al-Sadr's call for civili disobedience will be tried under Iraqi laws that mandate a death sentence, as Iraqi officials continue to insist that the Sadrists are not the sole target of their offensive in Southern Iraq.

The Iraqi anti-terror laws passed in 2005 mandate capital punishment for "those who commit ... terror acts" as well as "those who provoke, plan, finance and all those who enable terrorists to commit these crimes." By defining even peaceful political protests as acts of terrorism, the Iraqi government is stepping towards a totalitarian regime masked by a veneer of democracy.
Earlier this week, Sadr urged Iraqis to conduct civil disobedience campaigns throughout country to protest the government’s military operations in Basra. On March 27, he called for a political solution to end the "shedding of Iraqi blood".

In Baghdad, thousands of angry protesters poured into streets of Shia majority neighbourhoods, demanding that Maliki resign and calling him “the new dictator”. The government imposed a three-day curfew in the capital which lasts until 5am on Sunday.

Spokesman for the Iraqi government Ali al-Dabagh denounced the call for disobedience, calling it “an act of terror”. “Anyone who commits it will be tried under the anti-terrorism law,” he said.

Other political parties said they were worried that the violence has dashed hopes of stabilising Iraq.

“The fighting in Basra might wipe out all of the efforts that were spent to bring about stability to the country,” said Saleem al-Juboori, a member of Iraqi National Accord, the main Sunni group in parliament.
Meanwhile, the Sadrist movement continues to claim that the current crackdown in the South is a case of Malki and his SIIC allies using military force to create electoral results they will be happy with.
Sadr representatives have accused the government of deliberately targeting its members ahead of the crucial October 2008 provincial elections and vowed to fight US and Iraqi forces. Shia parties have vied for political and economic control of Basra since 2003.

“We know that there are some factions who want to weaken us so that we will not be represented in the provincial elections,” said Harith al-Uzari, head of Sadr’s office in Basra.

“If the government continues with this policy we will defend ourselves,” vowed Mazin al-Sa’di, head of Sadr’s office in Baghdad’s al-Karikh neighbourhood. “We will take up arms and stand against the government and the Americans.”

But government officials deny the Sadrists are being targeted.

“This operation is not against the Sadr movement,” maintained Brigadier Abdul-Aziz Mohammad, head of military operations at the ministry of defence.

“It is against criminal gangs and militias who are acting under the name of religion.”
However, all reports from the region on the spreading violence, as well as posed PR photos, that mention militias by name mention only actions against Sadr's Mahdi Army, while it seems that Badr Brigade militias may be actually joining the Iraqi security forces in their attacks.

But the battle itself is very fluid right now, with successes for forces commanded by the majority Shiite bloc in government on the fringes of the operation but a far more difficult situation than they perhaps expected for them in Basra proper and other large towns.
Sauidi said the Mahdi army was well equipped for the fight ahead. "We have captured lots of their vehicles, machine guns and mortars. We have new RPGs we got from their supply trucks. Our fighters know how to use the side streets as their battle space."

As fighting between the Shia Mahdi army and Shia Iraqi soldiers continued, witnesses described the scenes in Basra.

A resident of the poor neighbourhood of Hayaniya said: "The situation is very difficult in Basra, all the side streets are controlled by the Mahdi army. Even if the army has lots of tanks, the Mahdi fighters are controlling the streets. The fighters are driving in captured Iraqi Humvees and waving new guns."
That same Sadrist makes very clear the stakes for both sides:
We are going through a battle of existence we will fight to the end. We either survive this or we are finished."
I think it's fair to call this civil war.

Surprising Casey Endorsement

Senator Bob Casey endorsed Barrack Obama for President this morning and I am very surprised on a couple of fronts as I would have thought that he was a more natural fit for Hillary Clinton's base of support and agenda.  Casey is the ultimate Blue Collar Democrat and the 2006 field was cleared for him on the theory that he could do very well (for a Democrat) in the mountainous regions of the state which is the base Republican areas.  And he did that, but I still have the question of a counterfactual that any Democrat with a pulse and no necrophiliac tendencies could have done well in 2006 versus Santorum, but that is an argument for another day. 

Mike Tedesco of Comments from Left Field, who did a lot of work for Chuck Pennachio (I did some policy writing for Chuck, but Mike worked his tail off), Casey's much more liberal primary challenger in 2006,  has a great piece of analysis on the Casey endorsement and some history.

If you are a long time reader of Comments you will recall that Bob Casey played the role of DSCC insider in the 2006 Pennsylvania Senate primary to choose a Democratic candidate to unseat Rick Santorum He was pitted against an unknown insurgent liberal party outsider (and my candidate) Chuck Pennacchio. At the time the struggle I faced was in convincing my party-insider friends that Chuck was a viable candidate. Sadly, it was not to be mainly because of the huge support Casey received from the Pennsylvania Democratic party establishment in the form of Governor Ed Rendell, Senator Chuck Schumer and all the hundreds of committee people spread across the state who vote their loyalties.

Today, that same party establishment is now split with Schumer and Rendell riding on Clinton's bandwagon and their golden boy, the man they called the future of the Democratic Party in Pennsylvania, Bob Casey coming out for Obama.

At minimum, this will allow some party insiders who may have wanted to support Obama but had no self-serving (self preserving) reason to do so in the form of party support to now take that leap of faith. It also says to to my old friends in PA, those folks that make up the PUMP Democrats, who are you going to support the old guard, or the new?

Casey's endorsement is a surprise and is very valuable to Obama because he can serve as a validator for conservative Democrats in the central part of the state that Obama is okay.  If Casey appears at Obama's side and says he is a going to be a good president willing to listen to conservative Democrats, this is a very credible and valuable validation.  It will not allow Obama to win central state congressional districts as Casey does not have much of an organization still on the ground, but it will help Obama keep the margins and thus the delegate counts close. 

A small serving of justice for Siegelman

By Libby

The attorney purge scandal largely dropped out of the media narrative once "Fredo" Gonzales finally resigned, and nobody has been indicted for the gross politicalization of our Justice system yet, but at least one small step towards justice was finally taken in Alabama.
MONTGOMERY -- A federal appellate court today ordered former Gov. Don Siegelman released from prison while he appeals his 2006 conviction, saying there are "substantial questions" about his case.
That's putting it mildly. The court effectively said the prosecution didn't make its case. As Steve Benen put it in an excellent overview post, "Of course he shouldn’t have been imprisoned; the charges against him have always been a bad joke." The entire justice system has become a criminally bad joke if you ask me.

It's not like Siegelman is the only victim. One can't fail to remember the unfortunate case of Georgia Thompson in Wisconsin. She was wrongly convicted by the same group of politically beholden thugs simply to provide oppo for a failed attempt by the GOP to defeat Gov. Jim Doyle. She also spent many months wrongfully incarcerated and suffered the ruination of her personal life.

I hope I live to see the day when the true criminality of this administration is finally fully exposed and every single perp is convicted and imprisoned for the grievous damage they have done to the rule of law of this land.

Offensive of the Weak

The motivation for a major offensive in Basra that was almost certain to force the Sadrists to have a de facto end to their mostly unilateral ceasefire has been bugging me. It does not make a whole lot of sense, especially as the primary prize in Basra, the oil export revenue, is easily deniable by any group with some popular support and access to high explosives, AND the forces committed to the fight are a single light army division and three brigades of police. That force level is absurdly low, especially if there is any reason to believe that there is significant chance of defections.

I was able to bounce some ideas off of Cernig on Thursday night as we did some mutual head-scratching and what this looks to be is an offensive of desperation and some elegance, although it could be extremely ugly if anything slips. There are some massive assumptions in this analysis, and we'll be fleshing it out over the next couple of days. I'll start outlining some assumptions.

  1. 1 Sadr and his movement are significantly more popular on the street and in the Shi'ite electorate than Maliki, DAWA and ISCI/BADR
  2. 2 Throwing lots of money around has been a major driver of the decrease in violence
  3. 3 The great choke point in the money flows is Basra and its oil export infrastructure.
  4. 4 Sadr and most of his movement have developed a tacit working relationship with Petreaus and MNF-I --- harassment is tolerable in both directions but nothing too big too often. This has allowed Sadr et al to consolidate their positions.
  5. 5 The hold-up on the provincial election law approval was the Maliki factions being very concerned that they would be on the losing end of the stick if unfettered elections were to be held in the South given present trend lines.
  6. 6 The Cheney visit/pressure/promises to get this group to sign off on the election law included a promise of support on changing the political facts on the ground in the South via high explosives....
From assumptions 1 through 5, one concludes that Maliki's political position is weak. Given current trends he looks to get weaker over the next eight months going into the local elections. His allies and government are discredited for not being able to provide basic public goods and for being seen as too pro-Iranian and pro-American by too many interested actors. Furthermore, he is behaving as a good weak client by making sure as much money is out of the country in order to fund his potential exile.

One of his big problems is that the Sadrists will beat him politically and can go even with him on the corruption and distribution of spoils. So he has to take down Sadr or at least massively rejigger the political equation. And this offensive is his attempt to do so, and it has two interesting option trees. The first is that it actually works in defeating and seizing (intact) the Basra oil export profit center. This allows for a zero-sum transfer of spoils from Sadrists to Maliki's coalition while also embarrassing and weakening the Mahdi Army and enhancing the prestige and loyalty of Badr loyal units. This is very unlikely for multiple reasons. The other option tree is far more interesting.

Let us assume that this is a deliberate provocation exercise.

In this scenario the Iraqi Army attack into Basra's Mahdi neighborhoods does not go well, but it provokes a national Sadrist response which starts a strategic countdown clock. This count down clock includes increased Sadrist/JAM actions against Iraqi government and US Forces such as rocket/mortar attacks on the Green Zone, and attacks against the oil export infrastructure. It includes concerns over US logistics lines as the combination of Basra shutting down and general insecurity in the Shi'ite bridge cities increases.

It puts MNF-I in a very tough position as MNF-I is justifiably paranoid about its supply lines and the new routes coming in from Jordan to Anbar and terminating near Baghdad are insufficient to adequately supply the entire force. The supply lines are much harder to hit today than they were in 2004 but they are still the weak point of the American presence. Additionally the level of fighting increases significantly so SOMETHING HAS TO BE DONE.

And that something could be the deployment of American combat troops to Basra, as reports indicate that Marines may be sent to Southern Iraq. The British could provide logistic base security as the Marines bail out the Iraqi Army and take over patrolling activities in Basra. And unless the live and let live arrangment that minimized conflict in Sadr City is quickly put into place, the Marines and the Sadrists will be knocking each others heads in. There will be a strong temptation on the Sadrists fighters to horizontally escalate and raise the level of their activities and attacks in other southern cities. This will be a good test to see how much control Sadr and other senior leadership really have over JAM activities or if they just provide strategic guidance.

If there is horizontal escalation of fighting to other southern cities, two things will happen. The first is that implicit working relationship that MNF-I has been building with elements of the Sadrist movement is scuttled. The second is that the South is now too unstable to have free and fear elections due to those 'thugs' and that elections are suspended until peace breaks out (and coincidentally Sadr and his followers are either killed or de-legitimized. )

This is pure speculation, but as Cernig points out in his post on this subject, everyone is looking for informed speculation as to motive.

Maliki decided to launch the offensive without consulting his U.S. allies, according to administration officials. With little U.S. presence in the south, and British forces in Basra confined to an air base outside the city, one administration official said that "we can't quite decipher" what is going on. It's a question, he said, of "who's got the best conspiracy" theory about why Maliki decided to act now.
And this is not that outlandish of a conspiracy theory as there are few hard to reconcile with reality assumptions in it.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

The Knight's Move

By Cernig

Earlier today, Fester wondered why Maliki has gone charging into a city of 2.6 million after a numerous and entrenched Mahdi Army - armed only with a division of troops possessing no heavy firepower and only lightly armored trucks. He wrote:
why was this attacked launched with what looks to be massively insuffucient force levels on the part of the Iraqi Army? Was it pure staff stupidity/buying into your own propaganda that the JAM is a bunch of thugs with no popular support? Was it that the 14th Division was the only reliable division? Was it a hope that the introduction of a large force would destablize the local equilibriums of power and thus prompt local Badr and Fadillah militia attacks?
Fester called me this evening to discuss these questions and we settled on a combination of "the 14th Division was the only reliable division" - it's recruited in Basra, commanded by SIIC loyalists and has been based in Kerbala until now - and an option he hadn't listed earlier - that Maliki planned to draw the US into the fight on his side and move his own troops back into a PR/reserve position at the earliest opportunity.

Maliki christened his offensive the "Charge of the Knights" - and in chess, beloved game of all in the region, knight's move to come at the enemy from unexpected directions. By failing to commit enough forces to fight the Mahdi Army, his operation is certain to need rescuing if his government is not to fall in turn. The US cannot, with the best will in the world, commit more than a brigade or maybe three. That's way not enough to take on a force like the Mahdi Army in a city the size of basra through boots on the ground - and so firepower, bombs and shells will be pressed into service to do the work of the missing boots. Can we say "massive collateral damage?"

What better way not only to wreck the Sadrist's plans to reduce Maliki's SIIC allies to a minority power in the regional elections but also to drive a massive wedge between Sadr and Petreaus? The latter had been careful, of late, to refer to Sadr by the honorific "Seyed" and to credit his ceasefire with a large chunk of reductions in Iraqi violence. Maliki must have felt Mookie breathing down his neck from two directions.

Well, soon no longer. The Washington Post reports that US troops are already involved in combat with the JAM in east Baghdad.
U.S. forces in armored vehicles battled Mahdi Army fighters Thursday in Sadr City, the vast Shiite stronghold in eastern Baghdad, as an offensive to quell party-backed militias entered its third day. Iraqi army and police units appeared to be largely holding to the outskirts of the area as American troops took the lead in the fighting.

Four U.S. Stryker armored vehicles were seen in Sadr City by a Washington Post correspondent, one of them engaging Mahdi Army militiamen with heavy fire. The din of American weapons, along with the Mahdi Army's AK-47s and rocket-propelled grenades, was heard through much of the day. U.S. helicopters and drones buzzed overhead.

The clashes suggested that American forces were being drawn more deeply into a broad offensive that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shiite, launched in the southern city of Basra on Tuesday.
And, according to the WaPo, the folks in the White House have been trying to figure out what Maliki's been up to as well.
Maliki decided to launch the offensive without consulting his U.S. allies, according to administration officials. With little U.S. presence in the south, and British forces in Basra confined to an air base outside the city, one administration official said that "we can't quite decipher" what is going on. It's a question, he said, of "who's got the best conspiracy" theory about why Maliki decided to act now.

In Basra, three rival Shiite groups have been trying to position themselves, sometimes through force of arms, to dominate recently approved provincial elections.

The U.S. officials, who were not authorized to speak on the record, said that they believe Iran has provided assistance in the past to all three groups -- the Mahdi Army; the Badr Organization of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, Iraq's largest Shiite party; and forces loyal to the Fadhila Party, which holds the Basra governor's seat. But the officials see the current conflict as a purely internal Iraqi dispute.

Some officials have concluded that Maliki himself is firing "the first salvo in upcoming elections," the administration official said.

"His dog in that fight is that he is basically allied with the Badr Corps" against forces loyal to Sadr, the official said. "It's not a pretty picture."
As long as Maliki has the US to back him up, and power is more important to him than stability, this is a big gamble he cannot afford not to make. Sure, if he succeeds he gets a Sadrist insurrection. But that just means he can - delay the November elections in Sadrist areas indefinitely, citing the emergency and so prop up his SIIC allies and thus his own rule; count on US troops being around for a while as they won't be able to withdraw if there's more violence, rather than less, in coming months; put paid once and for all to any chance of reproachment between the US military and Sadr. On the minus side, there's a slim chance the Mahdi Army might mount a Hezboullah-style upset and a rather larger chance that the cat-herder, Sistani, might join with Iraqi parliamentarians who are already saying Maliki should heed Sadr's call for a negotiated settlement. If Sistani backs Sadr on this, Maliki is toast and so is his government, with Sadr garnering enough backing to become de-facto Iraqi leader almost overnight. But if he did nothing, that's going to happen anyway come November. Maliki doesn't have a choice if he wants to retain power.

For Sadr, the stakes are the destruction of his carefully built up social and political infrastructure, more than his militia. There's no way SIIC would stop at just defeating the Mahdi Army, they'd want Sadr's whole operation destroyed or disabled to the point where it's no longer a threat. Sadr knows the US military likely has the firepower, if not the troop numbers, to do the first and his Shiite enemies will do it the second as soon as the first step is out of the way. If he can negotiate a settlement, especially if Sistani backs it, he wins in the same way that Maliki, Dawa and SIIC lose above.

For the US, it's a bit of a lose-lose. If they use massive firepower instead of boots, they'll incur the wrath of much of the Shiite South well beyond the Sadrists. It will be Anbar at its worst, writ large, and this time lying athwart the main route of supply. If they lose in battle to a Hezboullah-style resistance, same again.

And over the US' shoulder, there are several other problems all looking to come to a head at once. There's the increasingly disaffected Sunni Awakening, threatening a general strike or even a return to their insurgent ways in the face of Maliki's refusal to accommodate them (ironically, Sadr would be far more likely to conduct the outreach that is needed). Then there's the Kurds and the brewing blood-feud over who owns Kirkuk. And finally, when the ground in the Northern mountains thaws in April and May, the Turks are looking to follow up their recent reconnaissance in force with a proper armored incursion on the hunt for PKK terrorists. There's a very real prospect here of chaotically and accidentally converging currents creating a perfect storm for the US occupation and for peace in Iraq.

Hillary and Obama respond to critics

By Libby

The old and new media outcry over the latest round of negative politics in the Democratic primary seems to have had some effect. Hillary's latest remarks, in the miltary heart of North Carolina, were encouraging.
Clinton stressed that there are “significant” differences between her and Obama, but said “those differences pale to the differences between us and Sen. McCain.”

“I intend to do everything I can to make sure we have a unified Democratic party,” she said. “When this contest is over and we have a nominee, we’re going to close ranks, we’re going to be united.”
Meanwhile as Steven Benen sums up in his usual impeccable manner, Obama was even more responsive to the criticisms.
It looks like the Obama campaign got the message. The senator delivered a speech at Cooper Union in NYC this morning on the economy, specifically emphasizing “legal reforms needed to establish a 21st century regulatory system.”

From a purely political perspective, I’d just add that Obama did so a) while exposing the disaster of Bush’s economic policies; b) trashing McCain’s speech on the economy from Tuesday; and c) without mentioning Hillary Clinton, in any context, even once.
That's exactly what we need. I'm tired of hearing why one candidate or the other is going to run better against McCain. I want them to show us how they're going to do it by running against McCain now, instead of each other. I don't think I'm the only one.

Basra Force Ratios

Reports suggest that the Iraqi Army in Basra is not advancing and is being stalemated by Mahdi Army fighters in their drive to take the city to advantage the Maliki central government. As James Joyner notes there are problems with the Iraqi Army that are very familiar to anyone who has paid attention to it when the Iraqi Army or National Guard or whatever it is called is asked to perform high intensity operations:

 Reports on NPR this morning say the Iraqi Army is vastly outmanned and outgunned. Further, there have been cases — how many is unclear — of Iraqi soldiers taking off their uniforms and joining the enemy. That doesn't exactly inspire confidence. 

Besides desertions and defections, another significant problem is force ratios.  During the Second Battle of Fallujah, the US attacking forces were composed of a composite division as six battalions led the main attack, another battalion as a diversion force, and two battalions as local reserves.  Additionally an Iraqi Army brigade was present as a mop-up/press release force.  The defending forces would have been the equivlant of two or three battalions of light infantry and local insurgents/neighborhood militias.  Fallujah was a city of roughly 300,00 residents before the assault.  And this assualt was supported by theatre level artillery and air support.  And despite this large armored and heavy infantry force with excellent air support, plenty of helicopter mobility and firepower, superior logistics, the defending force was able to inflict heavy absolute and proportional casualties --- roughly 10% of the US force was wounded or killed, and many infantry companies saw 30% to 50% casualty levels. 

The Iraqi Army force in Basra is a single division of lightly supported infantry with some US/UK locally controlled air support, minimal artillery, minimal aviation support.  Basra is a city of 2.6 million people (2003) and it is overwhelmingly Shi'ite.  If one assumes that one half of one percent of the male population are available to be called up for Mahdi Army fighting units, the defenders have numerical parity with the attacking force.  That is never a good thing, especially when the defenders are on their own grounds, fighting from prepared positions in dense urban networks and have higher morale and more firepower than the attackers.

So again --- why was this attacked launched with what looks to be massively insuffucient force levels on the part of the Iraqi Army?  Was it pure staff stupidity/buying into your own propaganda that the JAM is a bunch of thugs with no popular support?  Was it that the 14th Division was the only reliable division?  Was it a hope that the introduction of a large force would destablize the local equilibriums of power and thus prompt local Badr and Fadillah militia attacks?

Obama winning over North Carolina

By Libby

I have never been a big believer in polls and I think in this election with its polls every three hours, or so it seems, they have been exceptionally useless. Nonetheless, I do track them to some extent and I was surprised to see earlier polling that had Hillary and Obama tied in my new home state of North Carolina. These last couple of polls showing Obama with a wide lead better support the anecdotal evidence I've seen on the streets. Judging from the bumper stickers alone, I've seen many for Obama and none for Hillary. I haven't seen any for McCain either but I live in the liberal pocket of Raleigh-Durham, so I don't think that says much.

Needless to say, we had a lot of Edwards supporters here and from what I see in the local newspapers, most of those switched to Obama almost immediately. The spread the pollsters are now reporting more reflects what I see.

What's the prize in Basra?

What is the prize in Basra that is motivating the fight between units loyal to the Maliki government and SIIC/Badr and the Mahdi Army?  What is prompting this fight?  And what are the gains that the Maliki government believe that they can get at the end of the day if they are successful (which recent reports suggest that the Iraqi Army is 'stalled' and outgunned and out-trained by the Mahdi Army fighters they are attacking, is looking a little less likely)  The theory that the DAWA-SIIC alliance is looking to knock down the more popular and credible Sadrist currents is plausible, while the Iranian super genius manipulation theories are having issues with Mr. Occam.  But what is the net gain of this strategic approach?

Basra is valuable because it is a large population base and the only major oil export port in Iraq.  Roughly 80% of Iraqi oil exports go through Basra, so that is about 1.7 to 1.8 million barrels per day.  At world oil prices, this is roughly $166 million worth of exports per day (assume average price per barrel of $95.00) which means a massive amount of corruption, bribery, smuggling and other black/gray market money is available.  Throw in other traditional smuggling activities and this is a massive spoil.  And for the past five years, the Basra oil export systems have been maintained in fairly decent condition and has not been subject to systemic attack.

The Fadillah militia and group have the loyalty and control of the workers in the oil export sector.  However oil export infrastructrure is fragile when plentiful Semtex or C-4 is available to people who know how to use it.  The Sadrists have the working examine and the plausible premise that small motivated groups with social support can shut down oil export routes as the Sunni Arabs did that to the Kirkuk-Ceyhan pipeline for years.  So even if the Sadrists lose (which is not a sure thing at all) they can deny victory in terms of changing the allocation of spoils to advantage SIIC or Fadillah by their explosive veto, and we are seeing a possible precursor of that campaign this morning:

One of southern Iraq's two main oil export pipelines was also severely damaged in a bomb attack, officials said today.

The bombing of the pipeline, seven miles south of Basra, caused oil prices to rise yesterday to $107.70, though officials gave varying accounts of how supply would be affected.

"This morning, saboteurs blew up the pipeline transporting crude from [the] Zubair 1 [oil plant] by placing bombs beneath it," an oil company official said.

"Crude exports will be greatly affected because this is one of two main pipelines transporting crude to the southern terminals. We will lose about a third of crude exported through Basra."

Later reports suggested that up to 80% of Basra's export capacity has been shut down due to this attack. 

And given that a good chunk of the Surge's limited tactical success has been the throwing around of massive amounts of money to all armed parties who had been shooting at US forces for the past five years, the viable threat of cutting off major oil exports routes and thus severely crimping the flow of cash that is about the only claim of legitimacy that the Maliki government can beg, borrow or buy, undermines the central government which is launching this attack to undermine its rival's ability to buy votes (at much lower prices due to stronger loyalty ties).  Ahh --- negative sum prisoners dilemnas are so much fun to work with.  Maliki is screwed if his forces take the city as his government will have significantly less access to non-US government cash as the oil infrastructure will come under seige and he further solidifies the perception that he is Bush's little bitch.  Maliki is also screwed if a non-state military force defeats in a stand-up battle his army, as that tends to be a bad thing in the post-Westphalian world.

Surging For Shelter

By Cernig

The Iraqi government has imposed a two-day curfew, with no unauthorised person allowed on the streets, over the weekend in Baghdad. US personnel in the Green Zone have been told they must not leave hardened shelters at any time - for work or to sleep - unless for "essential reasons".

And Bush is headed, between GOP fundraisers, for the old "the Dems are to blame" shelter from the consequences of his own policies.
"Some members of Congress decided the best way to encourage progress in Baghdad was to criticize and threaten Iraq's leaders while they're trying to work out their differences," Bush told a military audience at the cavernous U.S. Air Force museum.

"But hectoring was not what the Iraqi leaders needed," Bush said. "What they needed was security and that is what the `surge' has provided."
So secure, indeed, that US personnel are hunkered in shelters 24/7 and Iraqis cannot walk the streets of their own capital (again). Meanwhile, those Iraqi leaders are now taking the opportunity to "work out their differences" at gunpoint.

Honestly, why aren't people laughing in Bush's face by now?