Monday, March 31, 2008

Al Sadr Does the Christian Thing

It was mighty Christian of Shiite Muslim cleric Moqtada Al-Sadr to tell his Mahdi Army to stop fighting in Basra. I’m afraid I would have taken a far more Old Testament approach to the recent violence in Iraq.

It’s not, after all, like al-Sadr and his followers were the ones who started this latest round of bang-bang. It was, in fact, al-Sadr’s self imposed moratorium on violence that gave President Bush’s “main man” General David Petraeus grist for his claim that the surge was “working.” You’d think maybe Petraeus would have wanted to leave the hornet’s nest alone; but no. He decided to target ”criminal” and “rogue” elements within the Sadr organization.

U.S. forces and the Badr Organization, a rival Shiite group, conducted raids for months on Sadr’s people. The Mahdis warned repeatedly that they would fight back, and they finally did. Shocking.

Predictably, Petraeus reacted to the March 31 rocket attacks on the Green Zone in Baghdad by blaming them on the Iranians. Blaming Iran for Shiite violence is his favorite method of trying to cover up the fact that he’s the one who armed the Shiite militias back in 2004 and 05 when, while in charge of training Iraqi security forces largely consisting of Shiites, he handed out Kalishnikovs like they were Hershey bars. (As overall commander in Iraq, he compensated for his earlier gaffe by establishing his Awakening program in which he armed Sunni militias.)

Somebody in what we laughingly refer to as the “chain of command” in Iraq decided that President Nuri al-Maliki would lead an offensive against the Sadrists in Basra. On March 27, Mr. Bush called Maliki’s operation “bold” and said that it showed the growing capability of Iraq’s security forces. Heh.

Al-Maliki gave the militants in Basra an ultimatum; if they didn’t surrender in 72 hours, they would face “severe penalties.” At the end of 72 hours, he extended the deadline. I guess that showed those pesky Sadrists. (I’m going to count to three. Then I’m going to count to ten. Then I’m going to count to a hundred. If I have to count to a million, I’m going to become very cross with you.)

Some of Malaki’s forces refused to fight or changed sides. One officer in an Iraqi commando unit said, "We did not expect the fight to be this intense." Four of his men were killed and 15 were wounded. "Some of the men told me that they did not want to go back to the fight until they have better support and more protection."

It must be nice to be in an Iraqi commando unit and have the choice not to go back to fighting until you get the support and protection you want. It’s too bad the troops providing the support and protection didn’t have that option, because those troops were U.S. troops who flew in air strikes on Basra positions and fought militiamen in the streets in Baghdad. I bet those guys are completely thrilled that their boss Petraeus let Maliki go off half cocked on an operation that they had to step in and bail him out of.

I also bet those U.S. troops were relieved to hear from neoconservative luminary and father of the surge strategy Fred Kagan that “The Civil War in Iraq is over.” Yep, Freddie the Freebaser really said that, on Monday March 24 at an American Enterprise Institute event titled “Iraq: The Way Ahead." Less than 24 hours later, Maliki went ahead and launched the growing capability of his troops into the bold operation that, apparently, only al-Sadr can put an end to.

Ali al-Dabbagh, an al-Maliki spokesman, said on the television channel Iraqia that the government welcomed al-Sadr’s call for a ceasefire. I guess so. It’s always a good thing when the guy who’s kicking your teeth in stops it. Whether or not the ceasefire continues depends on whether the government is grateful enough to al-Sadr to accept his terms, which include amnesty for Mahdi Army fighters.

One wonders how long al-Maliki will consider al-Sadr’s amnesty request, especially considering that al-Maliki first proposed amnesty for militia members in September of 2006.

Isn’t it simply lovely that the more corners we turn in Iraq, the more we paint ourselves into the same corners?

Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes at Pen and Sword.

"So we can play war..."

"Populated by outrageous characters and fueled with pompous outrage, Huber’s irreverent broadside will pummel the funny bone of anyone who’s served." — Publishers Weekly

"A remarkably accomplished book, striking just the right balance between ridicule and insight." — Booklist

View the trailer here.


  1. Anonymous2:48 PM

    I have read elsewhere (for example, in Scott Horton's "No Comment" column today: that Maliki's operation came as a "surprise" to the U.S.

    Do you think that's possible?

    I am also beginning to read in various places that Iran had a hand in "brokering" the deal that led to the cease-fire.

    If true, what do you make of that development?

  2. OTOH, my understanding was that W told M to "shit or get thrown off the pot", to paraphrase. That was why M personally lead the attack. Or something like that.

    Why Al-Sadr sent out the order is beyond me. I am sure he sees some strategic value in a "falling back" order during a winning campaign. My limited knowledge of military tactics and strategies seems to rule out this as a viable plan. But I, as usual, probably can not see the forest for the muzzle flashes.

    The only possible value, IMO, is that it proves that Gen. P's "surge winning" talk is just that: talk. If violence varies with Al-Sadr's commands, The P is talking through his hardhat.

  3. I'll likely do more on this story tomorrow, as it's developed interestingly today.

    Iran appears to have been involved, some are trying to make it look as if that implies they started the violence.

    Gareth Porter thinks the admin's story that Maliki surprised them is just that, a story, cover.


  4. I found your GR8 site looking for the answer to my question:

    Is the U.S. Navy being misused and abused conducting urban warfare and serving as an occupying force in a desert environment?

    What is your professional opinion, Commander Huber?

  5. Anonymous9:49 AM

    Independent Media again. A guest on Democracy Now! this morning, (and I'll have to wait for the transcript - for correct name and spelling) has been an "independent" unembedded journalist in Iraq for the past three months.

    Two points he threw out in the interview --
    (a) There is no central "government" in Iraq.
    That's the way America wants it.
    His term was "ludicrous" for people who think otherwise.
    Al Maliki -- somebody to talk to, and talk about. He accomplishes nothing. The different factions have just about divided up the country the way they want it.

    (b) Nobody inside the Green Zone has a clue about what goes on outside the green zone. (That would include most of the military of the United States, and the Command.)

    So, think about it. We have 140,000 plus in Iraq. We are losing more people day by day. And, there is no government to "stand up."

    There is The Green Zone. That's it.
    (The place for visiting Senators and Congressmen to go, and be seen.) And, this is costing the American people $12 Billion per month.

    Makes me nauseous.

  6. Anonymous10:55 AM

    Jeff -

    The estimable Professor Juan Cole has posted an article you may be interested in reading at (this link is to the in-one-page print version: )

    It is entitled "Why Al-Maliki Attacked Basra". Please note that I have not yet had a chance to read it, but thought you and your readers might be interested.


  7. Anon, I use the acronym, GOGZ for government pf the green zone, because I get to tired and lazy explaining it every time.

  8. Anonymous9:32 AM

    The independent journalist, Nir Rosen, stated on Democracy Now! that when we look at an outcome for Iraq, we should think Somolia.

    According to Mr. Rosen, who returned from three months in Iraq, the militias and/or the war lords control the country.

    Mr. Maliki is the Prime Minister of the Green Zone. Period.

    After five years, over half trillion dollars, over 4,000 of ours lost, several hundred thousand Iraqis lost. We have created another Somolia.

    In your words Jeff "So We Can Play War."

  9. Brilliant
    Within less than a week the Basra offensive has gone from "a defining moment" in Iraqi's history, in the President's words, to an operation conceived by Maliki that the U.S. didn't plan, had little warning of, and couldn't control.

    --David Kurtz

  10. Anonymous11:29 AM

    Ummmm....wouldn't any Iraqi action that "the US didn't plan, had little warning of, and couldn't control" be the very epitome of a "defining moment" in Iraq's (recent)history?

    Just wonderin'....

  11. Anonymous1:41 AM

    Interesting to see McCain doing his wacky 'I'm not a batsh*t crazy warmonger' schtick on Letterman the other night.

    First of all EVERYTHING that's gone wrong in Iraq is Rumsfeld's (and nameless) others fault. Not a mention of the Deciderer In Chief. Why Letterman let him off the hook on that one is beyond me.

    And McCain didn't mean that he'd be happy to have war in Iraq for 100 years - just that it's likely the US would have (unspecified numbers) of troops based there for a long time to come : just as there've been US troops based in Germany, Japan and Korea for 60 + years.

    Totally CLUELESS!

  12. Anonymous2:24 AM

    I am remembering the march 31 rocket attacks on the Green Zone in Baghdad. It is creating some confusion in my mind.