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29 March 2008

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Jonathan House

Col Lang, Today Juan Cole summarizes news of development in the south of Iraq under the headlines:

Police Mutiny, Refuse to attack Sadrists;
Clashes continue in Basra;
Sadrists open New fronts throughout Shiite South

His full account is below and at http://www.juancole.com/

What is your take on what he reports and what is the significance for the plan to put in "a reinforced brigade combat team ... plus USAF on the base"?

The Times of Baghdad reports in Arabic that clashes continued on Friday between Iraqi government forces and the Mahdi Army in Baghdad and the provinces of the middle Euphrates and the south, causing hundreds of casualties, including among women, children and the elderly. The fighting also did damage to Iraq's infrastructure, as well as to oil facilities and pipelines, damage that might run into the billions of dollars.

The US got drawn into the fighting on Friday. US planes bombed alleged Mahdi Army positions both in Basra and in Sadr City in Baghdad (as well as in Kadhimiya). Kadhimiya is a major Shiite shrine neighborhood in northwest Baghdad, and the spectacle of the US bombing it is very unlikely to win Washington any friends among Iraqi Shiites.

Despite the US intervention, government troops were unable to pierce Mahdi Army defenses or over-run their positions.

Al-Zaman says that the police force in Basra suffered numerous mutinies and instances of insubordination, with policemen refusing to fire on the Mahdi Army. The government response was to undertake a widespread purge of disloyal elements.

[Hmm. I wonder where fired policemen with combat training and guns could find another job . . . Maybe with the Mahdi Army?]

The Mahdi Army opened a number of new fronts in the fighting, in Nasiriya, Karbala, Hilla, and Diwaniya, as a means of reducing the pressure on its fighters in the holy city of Karbala. Local medical officials reported 36 dead in the fighting in Nasiriya.

The Mahdi Army used its position near Nasiriya to attack government troops attempting to go south to join the effort in Basra, and is said to have inflicted substantial casualties on them.

In Baghdad, Mahdi Army fighters clashed with government forces in 31 districts.

In the meantime, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki called for a decisive military victory and rejected calls by southern tribal sheikhs and a large number of Shiite ayatollahs for him to engage in dialogue and negotiation in order to reach a ceasefire and to save civilians who are threatened with a humanitarian catastrophe from shortages of water and food, as well as lack of medical care.

At the same time, Al-Zaman maintains, the Sadrists stipulated that al-Maliki and his brother-in-law, who heads the emergency forces that have been sent down to Basra from Baghdad and Basra, must withdraw.

The Iraqi minister of defense, Abdul Qadir Jasim, admitted in a news conference in Basra that the militiamen had taken the Iraqi security forces off guard. He added that the Iraqi government had expected this operation to be routine, but was surprised at the level of resistance, and was forced to change its plans and tactics.

Minister of Foreign Affairs Hoshyar Zebari said that the government intends to defeat the Sadrists, but said he did not know how long the endeavor would take.

The attempt of parliament to meet and take up the issue of the battle with the Mahdi Army failed when the federal legislature could not muster a quorum. The session then turned into a mere discussion session. Al-Hayat, writing in Arabic, says that one reason that parliament could not get a quorum was that the Kurdistan Alliance and the United Iraqi Alliance (Shiite) support al-Maliki and boycotted the session.

The tableau above is tragicomic. The Iraqi security forces haven't even begun to take key Mahdi Army territory in Basra, and in fact have been rebuffed. The Mahdi Army claims to have captured heavy arms and even Iraqi soldiers from the government. The minister of defense admits that Baghdad was surprised at the level of resistance to the campaign. (After the spring of 2004? Why?) The British contingent of 4,000 troops out at the airport is not getting involved, raising questions as to what they are doing there.

Sidney O. Smith III

Don’t know the probabilities but situation looks consistent with a prologue to exercising the “Wurmser Option” or a variation thereof.

Maintaining Baghdad to Basra supply line? Hope Cheney and company study the tactics of Col. John Mosby before brushing such concerns aside and saying, once again, to the American people “So?”.

Our best, perhaps only, hope is for those within the military tradition to come forward and tell the US people and world that the Wurmser option or a variation thereof is becoming a reality, if such is the case. Neither Congress nor the Executive branch will do “so”. Judicial branch does not have jurisdiction, at least not yet. MSM is an incarnation of Paddy’s Chayevsky’s film, Network. "So", at this time in history, that leaves those in the military who believe in the US Constitution.

Ael

Supply lines matter only if you have an army to supply!

Should Sadr gain legitimate power in Iraq, he will do so despite any American efforts. Thus, after gaining power, Sadr would likely ask the USA to leave. The USA would have to obey such a request. This would wreck ambitions for an "enduring presence".

Furthermore, Sadr is the most nationalistic of the Shia leaders. Should he gain power, he will no doubt want to bring the Sunni and Kurds under his thumb.

These are are good reasons why the American leadership needs him out of the way. ( Preferably before the hot season).

Dave of Maryland

The puppet government in Baghdad doesn't want the supply lines cut.

Rich Kuwaiti merchants don't want the supply lines cut.

Bribes, kickbacks & payoffs will result in warlords who will keep them open.

Presumably these factors have kept supply lines open for the past five years.

The free market in action.

LJ

Not having a military background, what is a "non-SOF" ground effort? I looked up "SOF" and was quickly able to rule out "Soluble Organic Fraction" and "Special Olympics Florida", but that left "Special Operations Forces" and "Strategic Offensive Forces". Or is there another one not on the list?

zanzibar

Why did US/Maliki start this military drive to knock out Sadr and now?

I was under the impression that a lot of the recent "tranquility" in Iraq was due to the fact that Sadr had a defacto cease fire.

If this is about thwarting the "people's will" in provincial elections aren't there other approaches?

If US combat forces have to go into Basra to whack Sadr's militia how would that turnout in terms of the perception war in Iraq?

arbogast

I am not an expert on Middle East affairs (to put it mildly) and I am not telepathic, but I am certain, as certain as I am that the sun rises in the East, that the Iranians are treading so carefully that their footsteps cannot be heard a centimeter away to forestall any attack of any kind by the US prior to the end of the Bush Administration.

There will be no casus belli if the Iranians can help it.

I don't know the expression in farsi, but in American it's, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."

VietnamVet

Colonel,

It is a tactical necessity for American troops move south to protect the supply line for the John McCain's 100 year war and to try to gain control of the oil fields for revenue for the Bagdad government.

With leadership that loves wars, a flash point in the next year is inevitable with Iran that will escalate. Iran will be blamed for the debacle in Basra.

The comments here previously all have valid reasons why a tired and worn Volunteer US Army cannot invade Iran. Shock and Awe is simply propaganda. The Air Force can tear apart formations out in the open. But, Vietnam and Southern Lebanon document that conventional airpower is helpless against infiltration and dug-in sophisticated determined enemies.

Although never mentioned the Iranians would be incredibly stupid not use Hezbollah’s expertise to help build defenses in depth in every town near their border and their oil fields. Israel and the USA would be immediately stalemated and forced to escalate to atomic weapons.

The only two outcomes of Bush’s never ending wars are either withdrawal or Armageddon.

Montag

The "Coalition of the Willing" is starting to look and smell like a well-aged slice of Swiss Cheese--more holes than cheese. Author Kurt Vonnegut had an interesting term, "granfalloon" to describe an artificial collection of people with no real ties to each other. Perhaps Bush should start calling it the Granfalloon of the Willing. Imagine Dear Leader having to say, "Granfalloon forces ..."

Jim Schmidt

Andy, in a previous post, mentions Tet, but tactically, particularly for the Viet Cong, this operation led to massive loss. As you point out, the USM, in a similar manner, will quickly subdue any direct military response from Iran if they take the bait. However, the opportunity for mischief is great considering the vulnerability of infrastructure in the Basra region and the proximity of a mixed Shia population in the oil rich Saudi northeast. Attacks on logistics and oil facilities could cause ongoing, thorny problems. The need to control this area is obvious.

What I find odd is the manner of Maliki’s direct involvement with Iraqi army operations. Seems this is an all or nothing gamble. “All in” is not a long-term winning strategy unless you know the cards. I doubt Maliki is that skilled or reckless so some other game is afoot.

Another odd thing is occurring here in the US domestic political arena. In 2006, a 527 based group formed called the Vets For Freedom. They claim to be “non-partisan” but they are clearly a pro-war group associated with various conservative funding sources and public relation firms including Benador Associates and the Donatelli group (swift-boaters). Their national advisor board includes Joe Lieberman, Lindsey Graham and war apologist Max Boot. The money trail is obscure, but VFF’s original website announced that anyone signing up would be referred to the Republican party for future solicitation. Some web references are list below:

VFF Website
http://www.vetsforfreedom.org/

About VFF by SourceWatch
http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=Vets_for_Freedom

PRO-WAR "VETS FOR FREEDOM" TIED TO BUSH'S PR TEAM
by John Stauber
http://www.organicconsumers.org/articles/article_972.cfm

SourceWatch on VFF website
http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=Vets_for_Freedom:_Website

Benador Associates - check who they book as speakers
http://www.benadorassociates.com/

http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=Benador_Associates

Donatelli
http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=Donatelli_Group#The_Swift_Boat_Connection

Reporter Jerry Zremski published an investigative story on VFF and their ties to national pro-war groups in the Buffalo News in 2006 but an archive subscription is required.

VFF, recently, launched an information campaign to sell the war called the National Hero’s Tour. The venue is to drive a bus around to arranged media events and have Iraq veterans testify to how good things are going in Iraq. Fair enough, but why now and why the vitriol recently experienced in Minnesota.

They and their confederates did some real damage to ordinary people in Minnesota including Forest Lake Principal Steve Massey and Star Tribune columnist Nick Coleman. Fox News and Fox contributor Michelle Malkin have also piled on. Community members who objected to the Vets for Freedom school appearance have received abusive treatment and posting of addresses, pictures and personal information on pro-war blogs. Charges of treason, communism, defamation, and other looney assertions are common.

The current tactic is to conflate opposition to the war as disrespect for the veterans. Treason by another name. Bottom line, rational discussion is impossible and silence through intimidation is the (un)intentional result. This is brownshirt behavior

See:
Nick Coleman's opinion column in the Star-Tribune
http://www.startribune.com/local/17035406.html

Star Tribune columnist Katherine Kersteb
http://ww3.startribune.com/kerstenblog/

The group recently toured Des Moines and expressed disappointment that no protesters showed up so they appear to be looking for a fight.

See:

Des Moines Register story National Heroes Tour
http://www.desmoinesregister.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2008803270390

The VFF's practice of camouflaging their mission and funding is a little creepy since they are recruiting veterans, the legion and sunshine patriot groups like the Freedom Riders as muscle.

Question is, is the National Heroes Tour one small part of an enhanced domestic PR campaign to support whatever is coming next in Iraq?

b

Don't know what to make of this:

Russian News Agency RIA Novosti two days ago:

Russian intelligence sees U.S. military buildup on Iran border

Russian military intelligence services are reporting a flurry of activity by U.S. Armed Forces near Iran's borders, a high-ranking security source said Tuesday.

"The latest military intelligence data point to heightened U.S. military preparations for both an air and ground operation against Iran," the official said, adding that the Pentagon has probably not yet made a final decision as to when an attack will be launched.

He said the Pentagon is looking for a way to deliver a strike against Iran "that would enable the Americans to bring the country to its knees at minimal cost."

He also said the U.S. Naval presence in the Persian Gulf has for the first time in the past four years reached the level that existed shortly before the invasion of Iraq in March 2003.

Well ...

A ground attack on Iran, other than some special forces quick operations is unlikely due to lack of U.S. troops.

The U.S. force in Baghdad can supply through Aqabar for a while. The Marines in Anbar are already using that line. But it will expensive and use even more resources.

But how will the Iraqi people be supplied if the South is shut down?

Where will medicine etc come from when U.S. trucks clog the roads to Jordan with hundred miles long convoys?

Meanwhile the Turks are preparing a new intrusion into north Iraq. Maliki will not be able to call up Kurdish troops for his problems in the South.

Charles I

"Many of the readers here are greatly underestimating the potential of a guerrilla campaign against the Kuwait-Baghdad supply line. Yes, the roads can be held open, but at what cost in diverted assets?"

That's what confounds me. After all the evidence from Palestine, Lebanon, Afghanistan it should be clear to the U.S. that al-Malaki is worthless, their efforts to build security forces a failure after five years, and military force has a very limited ROI

Cold War Zoomie

Meanwhile, relations between the U.S. and British armies are also very awkward...

This is nothing new. Read any account of our relationship during WWII. We're both proud peoples and butt heads because of it from time to time.

Yes, the roads can be held open, but at what cost in diverted assets?

This entire thing has been one big game of whack-a-mole from the start.

PS: I like the new "Committee of Correspondence" tag line.

ger

"Russian News Agency RIA Novosti two days ago"

That wasn't 2 days ago, that was a year ago. Look at the date - 2007.

Montag

Meanwhile our quislings in Somalia are about through. One Congressman has even coined the term, "Badhdad-izing," to describe the devolution to disaster. "Somalia's Government Teeters on Collapse:"

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/03/29/world/africa/29somalia.html?_r=1&th&emc=th&oref=slogin

Bobo

The Mahdi incursions into Basra and other cities will be put back into the bottle shortly, to resume another day. But there effect is dilution of our forces in country. Supply Line containment will also dilute our forces. How long can we keep our new friends the Sunni's from entering the fray is my big question.

As to going at it with Iran, seems to be only a Mad Mans aim in life at this time or even within the next year. God help us if he does.

b

@ger - 2:53 - you are right.

Sorry I screwed up reading only day and month of the Novosti tagline.

Please accept my apology for that.

Babak Makkinejad

All:

Iran has stated that she is interested in building 20 nuclear power plants over the next 20 years.

Assuming each to cost 3 billion dollars this will be 60 billion dollars. Throw in another 10 billion dollars for a state of the art uranium enrichment plant and we get 70 billion dollars. Add a few more goodies here and there and we get to the figure of 100 billion over 20 year period.

My point is this: it is cheaper for US to give Iran all of the above to go to war with Iran.

HH

Col. Lang's post is confusing. He seems to be upset about the British rightly deciding that this is not a winnable intervention, then bemoans the fact that America will have to continue fighting an unwinnable intervention.

Military forces should not be deployed to perpetuate their own glory. When they are not the correct instrument of policy, they should be withdrawn. Bush and McCain have yet to grasp this principle. The British are acting according to a useful old maxim: "Sometimes the right thing to do is nothing."

Cujo359

LJ, I'm going to guess that he meant "non-Special Ops Forces", since there already have been reports of American special forces working with insurgent forces in Iran. I had the same question on my mind, though.

b

Z-Bigs WaPo OpEd The Smart Way Out of a Foolish War will be big news in some European and ME quarters.

He takes quite a lot from Pat Lang's Concert of the Middle East

Let's hope he gets some traction ...

Walter Lang

HH

Neither the British nor American armed forces had any "say" in whether or not they would invade and occupy Iraq. This was a political decision made by civilian leadership. The decision to withdraw is going to be the same thing. In the event the American command had little effective input into the planning involved in OIF. You must know that. This situation still prevails in spite of all the PR praise heaped on Petraeus.

The intervention could have succeeded in replacing Saddam with a more acceptible government if the operation had been informed by real knowledge of the country and people and a goal limited simply to regime change. It was not so informed.

All

Yes. Non-special-ops. commandos can always be thrown away in little groups.

Bobo

These are not Sadrists "incursions" into Basra. They live there. pl

Clifford Kiracofe

From the Sunday Times (London):

"“We have received a shipment of Strela antiaircraft rockets,” Abu Sajad boasted to a Sunday Times reporter."

"The SAS was in Basra alongside Iraqi commanders, calling in attacks from RAF and US aircraft on “enemy combatants” as the death toll from five days of fighting across Iraq rose above 300, with hundreds wounded."

"At stake in Basra was not just the prime minister’s reputation, his prospects for provincial elections this autumn and control of the Iraqi oil fields, but also an entire coalition strategy of reduced troop levels, steady withdrawal and the turning over of Iraqi security to local troops."

“Maliki did not consult the president, he did not consult the cabinet, he did not consult the parliament,” said a senior member of the government. “Nobody is happy with what’s happening.”

"While some officials interpreted the offensive as Maliki’s “first salvo in upcoming elections”, others saw a simple power grab for oil. The intricate differences between rival Shi’ite groups in Basra and their presumed links to Iran were all minutely examined by intelligence officers. Yet on Friday one administration official admitted: “We can’t quite decipher what’s going on.”
http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/iraq/article3646595.ece

Does any SST reader have hard data on the so-called "criminal gangs" who are running black market oil ops?

Montag

Charles I,
Yes, al-Maliki is a paper tiger in many ways, but he's the best we could get for the money, so to speak. The Iraqi government has too many factions to be efficient. But here again the U.S. is caught between two stools. If al-Maliki truly was the Man on the White Horse that we're supposedly looking for then he wouldn't need a U.S. presence in the country. Machiavelli's warning about Mercenary Captains is very apt about political puppets as well:

"Mercenary captains either are or are not skillful soldiers. If they are, you cannot trust them, for they will always seek to gain power for themselves either by oppressing you, their master, or by oppressing others against your wishes. If, on the other hand, they are not skillful soldiers, they will still be your ruin in most cases.

arbogast

A very important point concerning nuclear energy for Iran.

It is a matter of record, and I will attempt to find the exact government document, that France believes there is enough uranium left on earth to supply its nuclear power plants for 60 years. Sixty years. 60.

Hence, I think it can be safely assumed that Iran, with a population greater than that of France (65 million to 55 million) is not thinking about nuclear development strictly for electricity.

The question is: what do you do with that information?

Or, as it is being framed here: what can you do about that information?

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