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I Don't Think Winning Sides In Battle Make Many Offers

| 80 Comments

MSNBC:

Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr offered Sunday to pull his fighters off the streets of Basra and other cities if the government halts raids against his followers and releases prisoners held without charge.

The offer was contained in a nine-point statement issued by his headquarters in Najaf.

This in spite of the press reports (on the admittedly confusing situation) that suggest that the 'Mahdi Army holds firm as Iraqi PM risks all in battle of Basra'.

The other side is always implacable, plucky, and standing firm - our side is always risking all, or otherwise at hazard. The reality is that both sides are hurting, and the question is who can sustain hurting longer.

80 Comments

The reality is that after 5 years, there is still a belief that we can get a victory in Iraq, even though their has been no definition of what a victory actually means.

Look for the shiite division to embolden the Sunnis, Kurds and the Iranians and have a detrimental effect on our situation. It looks to me like we are back to square one, i.e. still short a couple of hundred thousand troops.

McCain was not kidding when he said 50 to 100 years.

Its been clear for a long time that the contrarians on Iraq will never acknowledge the smallest peice of good news. So this is no suprise.

For the rational, however, this may end up being the best news since the awakening. Settling the militias has always been one of the major challenges in stablizing Iraq, and now Sadr has apparently been slapped down. This is a major event and potentially a turning point in the fortunes of soveriegn Iraq.

Pragmatically, Iraqi forces will now control Basrah and the other Shiia cities, denying Iran and the Sadrists secure bases to build their sectarian movements. Sunnis will think twice about defying the national government as well. The shot in the arm to the Iraqi Army will bring recruits and add much needed elan.

Another thing- the anti-Iraq people are making a desperate, last ditch effort to sabotage success in Iraq by equating the soveriegn, democratically elected Iraqi govenment with a sectarian movement. That is absurd. The Sadrists took up arms against the lawful government and they have been challenged and forced to surrender. That is the story here.

You might want to hold off 48 hours before calling either victory or defeat, depending on your desired end point. Middle East ceasefires are tenuous things, and you'll notice that this one is not unconditional...

Tim - no way am I declaring victory - in Iraq or in this engagement. But I'm amused tha tthe press spin has been entirely about how solid Al-Sadr's forces are and how the federal forces are turning sides, and then this offer comes from Al-Sadr, not Maliki.

A.L.

I'd say Drum has the most honest reaction.

Sadr's intentions have been unusually opaque throughout this entire operation, and it's hard to say exactly what he's been up to in Basra. Taking an opportunity to allow someone else to purge rogue elements in his movement? Consolidating control over Basra? Burnishing his credentials as a responsible statesman? Just reacting to events? All of the above? Your guess is as good as mine — and as good as anyone else's as well, I think.

#2 from Mark Buehner at 6:23 pm on Mar 30, 2008

Its been clear for a long time that the contrarians on Iraq will never acknowledge the smallest peice of good news.

So this shia fracturing is good news? Wait until the dust clears, Mark, before you start clucking. Also, if things do further deteriorate and the Sadrist are not neutralized by this wonderful event and or the Iranians are further strengthened in the oil producing area of Iraq, will you begin to see something in the contrarian position. By the way, I am not against Iraq, I am against theidiotic policy that led us there.

For the rational, however, this may end up being the best news since the awakening.

You mean the same rational characters that got us into a war without end?

Settling the militias has always been one of the major challenges in stablizing Iraq, and now Sadr has apparently been slapped down. This is a major event and potentially a turning point in the fortunes of soveriegn Iraq.

After five years of having a free hand in Iraq, you expect us to believe this is the sign of light at the end of the tunnel. What if it isnt. What if it fractures the government in Baghdad and thing become even more chaotic. More troops? Switch sides to the Sunni? What makes you think that in an area that has been full of intrigue and shiftin loyalties for millennia will be changed by firiring some bullits at the Sadrists? this sort of thinking isn{t rational, it is delusional.

Pragmatically, Iraqi forces will now control Basrah and the other Shiia cities, denying Iran and the Sadrists secure bases to build their sectarian movements. Sunnis will think twice about defying the national government as well. The shot in the arm to the Iraqi Army will bring recruits and add much needed elan.

Pragmatically???

Do you have anything other than your opinion to back this utopian scenario up. I suppose this happens just after the lion lays down with the lamb. This is the Middle East, Remember

#3 from Mark Buehner at 6:38 pm on Mar 30, 2008

Another thing- the anti-Iraq people are making a desperate, last ditch effort to sabotage success in Iraq by equating the soveriegn, democratically elected Iraqi govenment with a sectarian movement. That is absurd. The Sadrists took up arms against the lawful government and they have been challenged and forced to surrender. That is the story here.

I guess no one understood that, maybe someone ought to put it on TV over there.

"So this shia fracturing is good news?"

Would a solidified radical islamic block ruled by Sadr and bankrolled by Iran be preferrable? What state of affairs would you consider positive? Last week I dont doubt you were decrying the fact that we havent dealt with the milias yet... well pick a side.

"What if it fractures the government in Baghdad and thing become even more chaotic."

What if it doesnt? What reason do we have to think it will now that Sadr has put up the white flag?

"Do you have anything other than your opinion to back this utopian scenario up. I suppose this happens just after the lion lays down with the lamb. This is the Middle East, Remember"

Your just proving my point. Anything that happens is bad, and the status quo is bad. Thats just silly and nonserious.

AL

"This in spite of the press reports..."

I a little bit confused. Isn't your "this" a press report itself? Specifically, an MSNBC report.

An aside: doesn't determining the "wining side" is this particular episode depend on those 9 points and what the government ends up giving Sadr in order to gain the cease-fire? If he ends up getting what he is reported to be asking for, it will be a huge win for him and his movement and a huge setback for any hope of a secular gov't in Baghdad. Personally, I don't see that as anything to cheer about.

mark what is he asking for that differs from what he had a month ago?

Mark B.,

I don't know. I have only read reports concerning 2 of the 9 demands. Amnesty and release of prisoners seems like quite a gain for him, if you ask me. But clearly he has gained increased political power and the gov't seems unable to bring him to heal.

Mark B.,

From this distance, it seems to me that acceptance of this by the gov't would go a long way toward legitimizing Sadr's movement as political and military force. The gov't shouldn't be accepting cease fires in exchange for terms with such people (in an ideal world.).

I've had enough with letting the blame America first crowd get away with their lies.

TOC, your very first statement in your very first comment on this post assumes a flat-out lie. I don't see how anyone can have a discussion with you when you start by claiming that victory in Iraq has never been defined, and then work from there.

Do you also claim that the only reason why the US invaded was the WMDs? That is a well-worn lie too. Perhaps if you stopped harping on some of your destructive lies those who pay attention to reality, as opposed to al-Jazeera and New York Times propaganda, would have more patience with you.

"I don't know. I have only read reports concerning 2 of the 9 demands. Amnesty and release of prisoners seems like quite a gain for him, if you ask me. But clearly he has gained increased political power and the gov't seems unable to bring him to heal."

mark i think you are talking about his original demands. Those seem moot now that his forces have taken a beating and he has ordered them to stand down with no guarantee of any deal.

From what i can tell the only 'demand' Sadr is holding to now is asking that random arrests stop. The arrests in question were never considered by the coalition to be random (obviously) so essentially Sadr has gained nothing except some face saving.

"From this distance, it seems to me that acceptance of this by the gov't would go a long way toward legitimizing Sadr's movement as political and military force. "

mark i dont think you are acknowleding that Sadr has already been a major political and military force. He has a block of parliment for goodness sakes. You have to compare his position now to his position 2 weeks ago. Sadr's trump cards were sending his people to the blockades if he didnt get his way, and this was why Maliki and the coalition walked on eggshells around him (see all the supposed analysis of the surge giving the majority of credit for less casualities to Sadr's ceasefire).

Now Sadr has shot his bolt and the government has shown it can send troops anywhere in the country and they will fight and defeat his militias. No mass uprising of the Shiia will rise up to defend him. That is a HUGE blow to Sadr. His only real power relied on the threat of an uprising, and that has proven to be a red herring. Sadr has been BADLY defeated, because he has lost his ability to bully.

The Rabbis asked: Who is the greater disruptor of society; the well-armed highwayman or the petty housebreaker?

And the answer came back emphatically: The Highwayman may steal your purse once or twice; but the housebreaker steals your sleep, your security and your peace of mind!

That's why Bush and El-Maliki are absolutely correct when in calling this "the defining moment"; The Iraqis have bravely shown that they can live with Al-Qaeda's occasional suicide bomber, but they really really hate the insecurity of armed gangs in the neighbourhoods who undermine every manner of peace known to peace-loving men!

Defeat Mook the petty crook in Basra and Baghdad and you pretty much defeat the destroyers of Iraqi society.

For the rational, however, this may end up being the best news since the awakening.

And Mark, exactly why is the denouement of the "Charge of the Knights" such "good news"? Other than for Muqtada al-Sadr and his movement, that is.

Trying to be even remotely objective about it, it's hard to see how the Basra Offensive can be viewed as anything but -at the very least - an embarrassing failure for PM Maliki. He, after all, is the one who made the original high-handed demands to the Sadrists to disarm, or else; then launched the "or else" as a major military offensive (compounding the mistake by ostentatiously taking personal command); only to have it end in what can only be described as -at best- a standoff The JAM didn't, in the end, disarm, the Maliki Government hasn't, in the end, managed to "control" anyplace in Iraq they didn't control already; Young Mookie and his crew only look better (and despite the conventional reportage, they seem to have dictated the terms of the cease-fire); and, as a kicker, the "regular" Iraqi security forces (on whose training we have spent so much time, money and effort) have ended up looking like, basically, the jumped-up militia that they are.

Yep, truly a glorious victory, and splendid news...

Weird, this is the third thing I've read today with something around claims that attempt to refute 'Sadr was winning'. And yet, I have yet to come across anything that actually said anything near that.

Causing chaos, sure. Having police lay down their arms for him, yeah. Far from ever winning.

I've had enough with letting the blame America first crowd get away with their lies.
Yes, the time has come, 5 years into this war, to have this be the time! Stop them, stop them all!

TOC, your very first statement in your very first comment on this post assumes a flat-out lie. I don't see how anyone can have a discussion with you when you start by claiming that victory in Iraq has never been defined, and then work from there.
Yes! After all, here is the National Strategy for Victory in Iraq , and even though it's over 2 years old, I'm sure nothing has changed, even though the vast majority of this document was written by a professional pollster. See? Look at all the bullet points! That must mean it is defined.

Do you also claim that the only reason why the US invaded was the WMDs? That is a well-worn lie too. Perhaps if you stopped harping on some of your destructive lies those who pay attention to reality, as opposed to al-Jazeera and New York Times propaganda, would have more patience with you.
After all, it's not like the Senate was told 2 days before the vote that Saddam could strike the East Coast with UAV/Chemical Weapons, let alone having Powell give such wonderful speeches.
Remember - Iraq was also involved in 9/11 and financed Al-Queda. That was some good reasoning there.

Dave - from the linked article:

Yet Mahdi warriors such as Haidar Abdul Abbas did not look too worried about defeat last week. A 24-year-old expert at firing rocket-propelled grenades, Abbas was wearing funeral shrouds, signalling his willingness to die in combat.

and

Sadr issued an equally robust directive, ordering his fighters to ignore Maliki’s ultimatum.

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.

If Maliki’s crackdown fails, both London and Washington may have to reassess Iraqi army capabilities and the risk of future disaster if coalition forces continue to withdraw. “This is a precarious situation,” one US official said yesterday. “There’s a lot to be gained and a lot to lose.”

Already this weekend there were reports that police officers and soldiers had left their posts, changed their uniforms and joined the Mahdi Army.

...that's one.

A.L.

The most striking thing about your post is the title, which pretty much encapsulates the pro-war mindset. A attacks B, who beats off the initial onset, holding on to his initial territory. At this point should B
(i) Say "We're both hurting, why don't we call it a draw and stop before more people get killed"
(ii) Keep on fighting to avenge his previous losses

I'd suggest that (i) is usually the way to win in the long run. You obviously think (ii) is a much better idea.

#20: I'm baffled by your interpretation. Who obviously thinks what?

I am at a loss for anyone claiming Sadr comes away the better here... except that as i mentioned above for the defeatists any and all changes in the status quo are immediately assumed to be negative until proven undeniably otherwise to the point of looking ridiciulous (also the status quo is untenable and doomed as well).

Look-

Sadr had to be dealt with sooner or later- the Iraqi governments failure to deal with the militias has been argued (correctly) to be one of their major failings. So this was an eventuality and it HAD end these way:

1.Sadr calls for an uprising and the Iraqi army disintegrates because (being largely Shiia) they refuse to fight him (this is what happened the last time Sadr rose up). The democratic elected government is toothless and ripe to be plucked by Sadr.

2.Sadr's forces prevent the government forces from entering Basra and other enclaves and essentially a seige is begun by Iraqi forces... or coalition forces are required to do the heavy lifting and possibility 1 becomes more likely.

3.The government hits Sadr so hard that he quickly says uncle and hopes to retrieve his fortunes later. This is what has happened so far.

4. The government is successful and/or ignores Sadr's surrender. Government forces attempt to exterminate Sadrists (this is what Maliki will do if he actually is making an inter-tribal power play). Bosnia becomes Beirut.

If i'm missing something here, please anyone feel free to chime in, but knowing that Sadr is a Iranian goon, he was never going to peaceably join a democratic, secular, multi-ethnic Iraq, so he HAD to be faced.

So which of these scenarios is the most useful for a stable, democratic Iraq? Knowing Sadr's trump card of popular uprising had to be addressed at some point, can someone please tell me how that was supposed to happen better than has happened thus far?

For god's sake SADR is begging to stop the fighting while Maliki is in Basra inflicting the punishment, but MALIKI is the clear loser?

Pretty brilliant strategy there, John. You should be an Egyptian Field Marshal or something.

Mark B: Pretty good abstract of the near-term eventualities -- thanks for taking the trouble to think out loud and itemize. Figuring out what the hell is actually going on is hard, but the four scenarios you mention help discussion, I think.

It's interesting; I've just finished two of Biggest Guy's books (he asked me to store them until his next phase) - "A Better War", the revisionist Vietnam history, and "Masters of Grand Strategy".

An observation occurs to me from both of those, which is that a typical mismatch is where one side is fighting to win, and the other is fighting to settle - pretty much the history of the latter part of the Vietnam War. Unless the imbalance of power is extraordinary, the side fighting to win tends to - win.

This also refers back to the endgame in WWII when there was heated debate among the Allies about conditional vs. unconditional surrender.

John Q's notion, as I understand it, is that war is essentially a signaling exercise.

And in rationally bounded games, it typically is.

But as Taleb notes in "Black Swan" much of the interesting action happens outside those islands of stability.

A.L.

Indeed, Glen, I must bow to your superior wisdom. As I recall, you've pretty much supported this war from the beginning, and got it right all along. What with the spread of democracy through the Middle East, the daily sweets and flowers parades celebrating the American liberators, the absence of any significant casualties or financial costs, and the discovery and destruction of Saddam's WMDs, I don't know how I could have got it so wrong back in 2003.

Then, again, I thought the last two attacks on Sadr back in 2004 were a very bad idea, and they were so successful that now he's been beaten for a third time. I look forward to his fourth, fifth and sixth defeats, all of which will doubtless be celebrated here.

I don't see how anyone can have a discussion with you when you start by claiming that victory in Iraq has never been defined, and then work from there.
I am (not, I guess, surprisingly) with TOC here. Once upon a time, the victory condition was defined: as a secular, democratic Iraq which was pro-USA and accepting of Israel. Oh, and financing its own reconstruction by oil exports.

The definition of "victory" I have heard since that fantasy collapsed is by negation. Withdrawal of American forces is "losing" and "victory" is everything else, that is, staying in Iraq regardless of the situation on the Iraqi ground. Basically we're playing a gambling game where we have a large bank relative to the maximum bet, and even though the game is fixed against us and we are losing money and soldiers, we have many more, and can pretend that we'll get a run Real Soon Now that will let us leave the table winners. Nevada pawnshops live off foolishness like that. But even as the losing gambler can claim victory over his wife who nags him, unsuccessfully, to leave the gaming tables, so the Bush Remnant hold to their victory over those who have seen enough failure in this misbegotten crusade.

As far as Basra itself, the usual history of this war is announcement of a great breakthrough (Sovereignty! Constitution! Saddam captured! Liberals are not only cowards but wrong!!) followed by the embarrassing slow discovery that the overall situation is not the least improved. By the time this thread hits the bottom of the front page, it will be clear again. And yet, with the next false dawn, the chorus of "Why don't you see the success?" will begin again.

This comparison of "Good News from Iraq" and reality on electricity generation comes to mind. (BTW, electricity generation is no better now than three years ago, when Tim Lambert compiled the aforelinked comparison)

"(BTW, electricity generation is no better now than three years ago, when Tim Lambert compiled the aforelinked comparison)"

Hmmm...

2007

2008

The news has been relatively quiet regarding the pace of electrical reconstruction in the past six months. I take the lack of news as good news. In particular, my understanding is that electrical power supply is now greater than prewar (it had already beat those numbers before the surge fully took effect) and vastly more equitably distributed, and that continued shortfalls have to do with the rapid pace of growth in the Iraqi economy and the rapid consumption of electronics/air conditioners and other amenities by Iraq's new broader consumer class (non-Sunni in particular). Based on the state of several large long term projects, Iraqi electrical supply should now exceed pre-Gulf War I amounts in the next year or two. Yes, demand is still exceeding supply by ~20% and yes Iraq is still importing too great of a percent of its power from its neighbors, but the fact that the latest lefty 'the good is the enemy of the perfect' complaints revolve around the fact that we are helping the Iraqi's build gas burning power plants instead of spending the money on solar power strikes me as a 'tipping point' in the talking points.

Mark Buehner,

"Now Sadr has shot his bolt and the government has shown it can send troops anywhere in the country and they will fight and defeat his militias. No mass uprising of the Shiia will rise up to defend him. That is a HUGE blow to Sadr. His only real power relied on the threat of an uprising, and that has proven to be a red herring. Sadr has been BADLY defeated, because he has lost his ability to bully."

Isn't there a distinction between the short and long run here?

In the short run, if Sadr has sustained a defeat, I'm still not sure this differs from his last defeat in 2004, when his followers also went home with their guns. What is different this time may be longer-term: that it is the Iraqi army, not U.S. forces, that have done the ground combat. Even if both sides are afraid to push the situation any harder, the Baghdad government could emerge a bit stronger if nothing else goes wrong.

There are still two big questions:

First, is the current operation an effort to achieve the rule of law, or is it a power grab by rival parties to prevent the Sadrists from winning a larger share of the vote in the fall?

Second, the fact that Sadr cannot inspire an uprising does not mean that the Maliki government has won over the population. Security (if that is what is being extended now) is a precondition of civil government, but to win over the population the Baghdad government will also have to deliver basic public services and be perceived as an impartial source of authority. In places where we have provided security, the ability of Baghdad to provide such authority has been far from clear so far.

In order to be consistent, I have always used the Brookings Report for electricity statistics. Note the first half of 2007 was even worse than most of 2005 and 2006.

So, for example, October 2007 was 4725 megawatts, but Feb 2008 was back down at the pre-war level at 3950, although March 2008 is a small uptick.

A similar pattern was just as evident at the same level back in 2004 and 2005. No news, in this case, is no news: our attempt to deliver even our initial prediction of 6000 Mw by July 2004 has not been attained even once—nor 5000 either—almost four years later.

Celebrim is merely taking over Chrenkoff's habit of announcing Good News after Good News about Iraqi electricity while the total generated oscillated around the same ~4000 Mw. Soviet Five Year Plan Goals, anyone?

Mark B seems dug in against the notion that Sadr might want to save his goons for a future point in which the other side has less recourse to US air and ground support.

knowing that Sadr is a Iranian goon

Uh huh. 'Knowing', indeed.

Here's a quick question which I would imagine that Nouri al-Maliki is asking himself this morning; given that the objective of starting this fight was to disarm the Mehdi Army, have they been disarmed?

If the answer is "no" (and it is), then it's pretty clear who won this one.

AL,

You seem to be living in a parallel universe of wishful thinking. The facts on the ground are that the Sadrists control Basra. Also, read the WP and NYT articles on the Sadr 9 point plan which was negotiated by all political factions, with Iraqi politicians characterize it's acceptance as a weakening of Maliki's government.

"Mr. Mashadani said negotiations on the statement involved senior Iraqi clerics and at least 10 senior Iraqi politicians from the main parties, including Iraq’s president, Jalal al-Talabani, a Kurd, representatives of Mr. Sadr in Najaf, and the prime minister himself."

"But the muddle that has emerged from what was supposed to be a decisive assault has serious consequences for the prime minister, Mr. Daoud said. “The government now is in a weak position,” he said. “They claimed that they are going to disarm the militias and they didn’t succeed.”

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/03/31/
world/middleeast/31iraq.html?pagewanted=2&hp

Basra according to a NYT stringer:

"Somehow I found another driver to take me within a couple miles of the city center, which I had been told government forces controlled. When that driver would go no farther, I had to walk, but by then I saw trucks filled with Mahdi Army members speeding through the streets wearing black masks and carrying AK-47s and rocket-propelled grenades."

"The next day I moved around as much as I could. The common observation was this: There was nowhere the Mahdi either did not control or could not strike at will."

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/03/31/world/middleeast/
31basra.html

d^2 - I'd imagine the objective is to turf off before the upcoming elections, and to demonstrate vulnerability; I'd be hard-pressed to imagine that anyone thinks that any of the militias in Iraq are going to be 'disarmed' any time soon.

But, as I noted, if Sadr felt he had the upper hand, I don't see why he wouldn't want to inflict a major defeat on Maliki and expand his footprint in advance of the elections. (hence the title of the post)

A.L.

The McClatchy reporter also failed to get the announcement that this is a big Maliki win.
Ali al Adeeb, a member of Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki's Dawa party, and Hadi al Ameri, the head of the Badr Organization, the military wing of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, had two aims, lawmakers said: to ask Sadr to stand down his militia and to ask Iranian officials to stop supplying weapons to Shiite militants in Iraq. ....The Qom discussions may or may not bring an end to the fighting but they almost certainly have undermined Maliki — who made repeated declarations that there would be no negotiations and that he would treat as outlaws those who did not turn in their weapons for cash. The blow to his own credibility was worsened by the fact that members of his own party had helped organize the Iran initiative. [h/t Kevin Drum]
As I wrote above by the time this thread gets to the bottom of the front page, it will be clear that the overall situation has not improved at all—likely worse.

[I'd be hard-pressed to imagine that anyone thinks that any of the militias in Iraq are going to be 'disarmed' any time soon.]

Well Nouri al-Maliki did, because that's what he said that the aim of his operation was. And now he hasn't done it, and he's left with his dick in his hand looking at a conflict which completely failed to work out the way he thought it would, plus very clear evidence that every single Shia city in Iraq has enough Sadrists in it to close the town down.

[But, as I noted, if Sadr felt he had the upper hand, I don't see why he wouldn't want to inflict a major defeat on Maliki and expand his footprint in advance of the elections]

Ever heard of something called "economy of force"? He's achieved all he needed in the form of a political victory. To go any further would be to give al-Maliki an excuse to declare a state of emergency and suspend the elections.

"Mark B seems dug in against the notion that Sadr might want to save his goons for a future point in which the other side has less recourse to US air and ground support."

To the contrary, i'm sure that is exactly what he is doing. Im just finding that hard to square with Sadr gaining a victory. Running away with your tail between your legs doesnt generally create an aura of invincibility with either your adversaries or the general population you rely on.

Isn't it very likely that the next time Sadr tries this, the Iraqi Army will be that much stronger? The Coalition air support issue is valid, but then again coalition air and logistic assets could be available in Iraq for decades if necessary with a bare minimum of ground forces.

"Here's a quick question which I would imagine that Nouri al-Maliki is asking himself this morning; given that the objective of starting this fight was to disarm the Mehdi Army, have they been disarmed?"

Fallacy. Maliki never premised this fight on disarming Sadrs militia. The progression was- continuing attacks by supposedly rogue elements of the Mahdi Army, Coalition and Iraqi forces arresting suspects in those attacks, Sadrists taking to the streets in protest (armed), IA forces move in to prevent violence, IA forces attacked by Sadrists, Sadr himself calls for an uprising, IA forces engage Sadrists across Iraq, Sadr calls for his people to stop fighting.

"Well Nouri al-Maliki did, because that's what he said that the aim of his operation was."

Link?

Thanks dsquared, i hadn't caught that. In that light, Maliki's vow was certainly ill advised and will hurt his standing politically.

But Sadr is still hurt worse. His trump card and the reason anybody worries about him has been his threat of unleashing his militias, which many thought capable of toppling the government and seizing control of major cities.

That threat has proved hollow. Maliki may lose personally and politically, but the sovereign state of Iraq still wins. As a power, the government has proven it will stand together to oppose Sadr, and the military has proven it can and will fight the militias. There was no mass defection that was feared. As time goes on and the government and military grow in strength, this equation will favor the government even more.

Is that not the case? Is anyone arguing Sadr will be in a hurry to rise up again knowing he was badly bloodied this time, and that the mass uprisings he envisioned didnt happen? Last week everyone walked on eggshells around Sadr. Is that still the case? Will the parliment still balk at passing legislation if Sadr opposes it with the threat of violence?

Mark B.

"Running away with your tail between your legs doesnt generally create an aura of invincibility with either your adversaries or the general population you rely on."

Doesn't this more accurately describe the gov't troops than Sadr's? They are the ones who initiated the assault. During the course of the operation, the defenders against the attackers, gained the upper hand, and then offered a cease fire in exchange for an increase in force (i.e., release of prisoners)

"Isn't it very likely that the next time Sadr tries this, the Iraqi Army will be that much stronger?" Again, Sadr wasn't the one "trying" something here. It was a gov't initiative to dislodge militia elements from Basr. That initiative failed. The status quo remains, with the following exceptions: 1) More millitants on the streets as a result of their being released from prison as a condition of the cease fire. 2) Gov't appears weaker as a result of accepting a cease fire without achieving any declared aims.

So, for example, October 2007 was 4725 megawatts, but Feb 2008 was back down at the pre-war level at 3950, although March 2008 is a small uptick.

You are conveniently leaving out the private generating capacity which the report estimates as being between 2000 and 4500 megawatts.

The March 2007 report indicated around 1000 MW of private capacity. Ditto with March 2006.

So, yes, there is all kinds of growth in generating capacity. I guess the icky capitalist privately owned stuff doesn't count though. For some reason.

Actually if we take the high end estimate on the private capacity and add it to the public generation we're right at the 8000-9000 MW demand level.

Mark B.,

"his threat of unleashing his militias, which many thought capable of toppling the government and seizing control of major cities....That threat has proved hollow"

These are the folks who control Basr, Iraq's 2nd city and only port. The gov't operation (30,000 troops) to dislodge them failed.

"Is anyone arguing Sadr will be in a hurry to rise up again knowing he was badly bloodied this time, and that the mass uprisings he envisioned didnt happen?"

What do you mean by "again?" This was not an uprising that was put down. This was an attempt to disarm those who control Basr. They still control Basr. This is terrible news. T

"During the course of the operation, the defenders against the attackers, gained the upper hand, and then offered a cease fire in exchange for an increase in force (i.e., release of prisoners)"

I disagree with that assessment. Government forces are still in Basra and still going street by street until the violence is quelled. Basra was a virtual no-go zone for government forces two weeks ago, especially some neighborhoods. That is no longer the case.

And note that Sadr told his forces to stand down BEFORE any agreement was sealed. You dont usually call of your forces in the hopes that your demands are met. For that matter, Sadr has a fair point in that unconvicted members be set free. That is something that should indeed happen, either charge them or free them. But again, these are essentially requests being made by Sadr at this point. Government forces are still on the field, Sadr is asking, basically hat in hand. Your interpretation just doesnt jive with the facts. If you were right there would be no IA forces in Basra and Sadr would surely be telling them it woudl stay that way (like he has often tried in Sadr City).

"These are the folks who control Basr, Iraq's 2nd city and only port. The gov't operation (30,000 troops) to dislodge them failed."

Control? In what sense? They control some municipalities by virtue of living there. But they dont 'control' the city in the sense of manning checkpoints etc. The government can go where they wish and stay.

And dislodge? These people live in these neighborhoods. Do you suggest 'victory' woudl be defined by the IA pushing them out of their houses and out of the city? Like I said, unless you favor a war of anilihilation I dont see what more you could expect. The Sadrites tried to take control of the city and bar the government forces. Government forces fought their way in a forced the enemy to stand down. What more would you expect?

"What do you mean by "again?" This was not an uprising that was put down. This was an attempt to disarm those who control Basr. They still control Basr. This is terrible news"

Thats just not the case. The disarming part was something Maliki added well into the confrontation (ill advised as it was). A bridge to far by Maliki, for sure, but this entire affair was precipitated by SADR, not Maliki. His goal was to cow the government with threat of uprising. His bluff was called and SADR was forced to back down, with only the hope of having his demands met.

Sadr tried to impose on the government, not vice-versa. His position is considerably weaker. I'll ask again- is anyone as afraid of Sadr rising up as they were last week?

Mark B.,

"The government can go where they wish and stay."

Clearly, you and I are reading very different news accounts of the situation in Basr.

"The disarming part was something Maliki added well into the confrontation"

Ditto.

Now granted, I get most of my information from the notoriously anti-American NYT, BBC and PBS, but I strongly doubt that even these biased outlets would distort the situation as much as would be required if what you write is an accurate description of events.

"The next day I moved around as much as I could. The common observation was this: There was nowhere the Mahdi either did not control or could not strike at will."

From a first-hand report by a former Iraqi captain, now working for the NYT. As far as I can tell, the situation has not changed since this report was filed. Maybe I'm wrong. I'm not there.

We obviously have different reports:

"An AFP correspondent in the southern port city said Iraqi troops were deployed in most parts of Basra and there were no reports of any new clashes overnight"

"General Aziz said that by Sunday security forces had managed to clear five areas of Basra which were known Mahdi Army strongholds -- Al-Najibiyah, Al-Makkal, Al-Ashhar, Al-Zubair and Qarmat Ali."

link

"News of Iran's involvement in the cease-fire talks came as an al-Maliki spokesman said operations targeting "outlaws" in the Shiite stronghold of Basra would end when the mission's goals were achieved"

"Troops and police, whom the U.S. and Britain have backed, are in control of much of Basra, and local security forces are going house-to-house in some districts to confiscate weapons and chase "the outlaws and the criminal and smuggling gangs," the spokesman said."

link

Here is what Maliki said his goals in Basra were when he arrived there last week:

"Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki pledged to instigate security operations in and around Basra after arriving in the city yesterday, state television reported. Basra has been plagued by the smuggling of ``oil and its derivatives, weapons, drugs and other prohibited materials,'' and the government ``is firmly resolved to restore security and stability and to impose law,'' al-Maliki said today in a statement carried by state television." link

I'd say that lines up pretty well with what he is accomplishing. The disarmament was never going to happen short of house to house civil war.

Treefrog, the fact that more Iraqis have gone and bought diesel generators does not count as reconstructing the electric grid. It would be better to see it as an acknowledgment of continued failure.

Mark B.,
I would just note that all but one of your reports are simply quotes of Gov't spokesmen's claims (feel free to take them at their word) and seem to confirm my impression that, after the operation, the status quo ante remains in effect. If the gov't backs down from its stated goal of disarmament, the militias will have demonstrated their strength relative to the govt's. It seems to me you are looking for that silver lining. I see a darkening cloud. Time will tell.

My prediction is that Obama will become president and withdraw troops over the course 2009, there will be a chaotic struggle for power in Iraq among Shia factions for 4 or 5 years, a strongly religious coalition will emerge and Sadr will be a prominent player. Maliki will not. Iraq will end up with a gov't somewhere between that of Iran and the Taliban. You should also know that I'm picking the Cubs this year.

Treefrog,

Any idea if any of that estimated privately-produced wattage is paid for by US tax dollars to illuminate the Green Zone? Or is this where all the blackmarket oil is going: to run generators in private homes and shops?

In either case, is this really a good measure of how well our reconstruction efforts (& dollars) are doing?

"would just note that all but one of your reports are simply quotes of Gov't spokesmen's claims"

So the AFP reporter is wrong that Iraqi troops were deployed in most of Basra? What are you suggesting?

"I would just note that all but one of your reports are simply quotes of Gov't spokesmen's claims (feel free to take them at their word) and seem to confirm my impression that, after the operation, the status quo ante remains in effect."

Thats ridiculous. Government forces were not present in Basra in strength before. Militias controlled turfs.

We really need some persepective here, the memory hole seems to be fast at work. Here is a pretty convention wisdom account of the situation in Basra as of just last week from Time:

"For much of the past three years, the Iraqi government has had little influence over Basra. As British troops have steadily withdrawn from the city, it has fallen into the control of three major Shi'ite militias - Moqtada al'Sadr's Mahdi Army, the Iran-backed Badr Brigades and a local group associated with the Fadila Party. The three have recently fought turf battles over large swaths of the city, claiming hundreds of lives. " link

Now there are government troops in every neighborhood, STILL battling or arresting wanted people, and intending to stay it would appear.

If you dont think that is a major development, i'd really like to here what you would consider success. Baghdad's writ didnt run in Basra a week ago, now government forces control the city and the militias have stood down. How is that not a major turn of events?!

[His trump card and the reason anybody worries about him has been his threat of unleashing his militias, which many thought capable of toppling the government and seizing control of major cities.]

No, he has two trump cards 1) that he can raise the mob in South Baghdad - and it's been proved that he can, he has no need to do anything with it and gains nothing politically (this is a political war remember) from taking any casualties, and 2) that he has his foot poised over the windpipe of Iraq's oil export capacity and can step on it at any time he likes - which he has also proved is true.

So given that he's just been challenged eyeball-to-eyeball by Maliki, and Maliki is the one who blinked, who gets the votes in the elections? As I noted above, Sadr is the guy who benefits from a low-energy situation, because he's got definite and visible popularity, so the worst thing from his point of view would be anything that gets the elections cancelled.

[So the AFP reporter is wrong that Iraqi troops were deployed in most of Basra? What are you suggesting?]

By the standard you appear to be using here, Mark, the UK had won a famous victory in Northern Ireland by August of 1972. In real life, we hadn't.

AJL:

In order to be consistent, I have always used the Brookings Report for electricity statistics.... Soviet Five Year Plan Goals, anyone?

Not to disagree that the numbers you pick do not show the stated-goal improvement, but looking at MWH (total energy delivered) and average hours of power delivered per day tells a somewhat different (though not a joyous) story.

"1) that he can raise the mob in South Baghdad - and it's been proved that he can, he has no need to do anything with it and gains nothing politically (this is a political war remember) from taking any casualties,"

He gains nothing from raising it either. He's proved he can call some people up to be shot by IA and coalition forces. The next time he may not get so many takers.

"2) that he has his foot poised over the windpipe of Iraq's oil export capacity and can step on it at any time he likes - which he has also proved is true."

He HAD his foot poised. His people controlled the capicity, quite literally. There were no Iraqi forces to stop him. Now there are.

"So given that he's just been challenged eyeball-to-eyeball by Maliki, and Maliki is the one who blinked,"

Come back to the real world my friend. Maliki isnt the one who called his people back. Maliki is the one whose troops now control the streets of Basra and continue to arrest the people they were arresting that started the fight.

" As I noted above, Sadr is the guy who benefits from a low-energy situation, because he's got definite and visible popularity, so the worst thing from his point of view would be anything that gets the elections cancelled."

Red herring alert. The first we've heard about cancelled elections (much less Sadrs role in it) is from you. Cancelled elections would hurt the Sunni if anyone. Maliki stands to lose in the elections but there is no reason to believe Sadr will gain much, particularly after this embarassment, and losing his control of Basra.

Treefrog, the fact that more Iraqis have gone and bought diesel generators does not count as reconstructing the electric grid. It would be better to see it as an acknowledgment of continued failure.

Or it could be (not saying 'is', saying 'could be') a sign of an emerging adaptive resiliency and personally-controlled resources useful in the face of uncertainty. Maybe those goalposts needed moving. I don't know.

I do expect that one of these days the topheavy brittle infrastructure of the USA is going to take another hit because it's a grid. Grids with concentrated assets and chokepoints are tempting tagets even for EarthFirst!ers, you know?

"By the standard you appear to be using here, Mark, the UK had won a famous victory in Northern Ireland by August of 1972. In real life, we hadn't."

Wish i had a clue what this meant. Most definition of a viable government include a monopoly on force. I am completely at a loss to how Sadr's militia controlling Basra was a preferable state of affairs to the Iraqi government controlling Basra.

Its just amazing to me the mental gymnastics at work to make this a victory for Sadr. A week ago critics were complaining the Sadr hadnt been challenged and controlled Basra, now Maliki controls Basra and this is even worse. It all goes back to everything that possibly happens in Iraq has to be bad unless proved overwhelmingly and without caveat otherwise.

Grids with concentrated assets and chokepoints are tempting tagets even for EarthFirst!ers, you know?
Anyone know the comparative efficiency of an electric grid compared to individual generators for a city the size of Baghdad? (Sight unseen I'd guess central generation wins by an order of magnitude.)

Mark B.,

No, I am not suggesting the APF reporter is wrong. In an earlier post, I presented a report from a NYT reporter saying that the day before the ceasefire, the militiants were in full control of the city. To dismiss the accuracy of that report you presented several quotes, one from the APF reporter, and 3 or 4 from gov't spokesmen. As I said before, I am not there. Basra is a large city. There are conflicting independent reports. I'm not ready to embrace the rosy scenario of a gov't in full control 36 hours after a cease-fire. But the larger problem seems to be that Sadr has the ability to control these forces. He is drawing them down in exchange for political advantages. He is using them to leverage greater influence and power. None of this is any of my business, but personally, I am not a big fan of religious-based movements and I don't like to see their power and influence increase. I think those who are trying to use the events in Baghdad and Basra over the last week as an example of improvement in the situation are ....well, isn't there some phrase about lipstick on a pig?

Mark- simple question: assuming a viable and soveriegn Iraqi central government is a good thing, is it not a better state of affairs to have Iraqi troops controlling the streets of Basra than having Iraqi troops unable to enter most of Basra?

That question, at least in my mind, far outweighs any of these alleged benefits Sadr has amassed from calling his troops out, seeing them shot up, and then calling for them to retreat without any concrete results in hand.

To me, Occam's Razor suggests the scenario where the government shows up, is opposed, fights, and the enemy quits the field is a victory compared to the convoluted (to my mind) gymnastics that hand victory to Sadr when the results are that his cash cow of a city is no longer under his complete control.

This would be like the Confederates claiming the fall of Richmond was just their big chance for Lee and Johnson to combine and win the field. Or one better- to still claim a confederate vicotry when Lee told his troops to go home. By any actual measurable results, Sadr is worse off than he was last week. These nebulous quasi victories notwithstanding. Even the Sadrists aren't particularly vocal claiming victory (which is odd for their standards, see their previous uprisings). The ONLY ones i hear mulling a Sadr victory is Western newsagencies and anti-war pundits.

Mark B. "is it not a better state of affairs to have Iraqi troops controlling the streets of Basra than having Iraqi troops unable to enter most of Basra?"

On the surface of things, yes. But 1) it isn't clear that they do control the streets right now and 2) if it is perceived that the gov't controls the streets by permission of the militias in exchange for political concession, then the answer isn't such an obvious yes anymore. Ever heard of pyrrhic victory?

I think your view assumes that control of Basra is the end goal, whereas, it seems that to Sadr, control of Basra was a means to a larger ends. If it ends up that he has ceded control of Basra in order to achieve greater control of the gov't of Iraq, then it was a pretty adept move on his part. I think he is publicly flexing his muscle and it turns out to have been a much bigger muscle than anyone thought at this juncture. Again, the initiative was intended to drive out and disarm the militias. That battle failed.

If the ceasefire holds, Sadr has shown he can do what the gov't could not: command the militia's running Basra. It also remains to be seen how much influence he has over these guys in the end.

My opinion: Sadr is waiting out the US. One day we will leave and he will be there with his militias in tact. Without US support, Iraq gov't forces may not be a match for Sadr's movement.

My other opinon: Maliki did this to demonstrate he doesn't need US backing to confront Sadr's forces. That didn't turn out so well for him.

"if it is perceived that the gov't controls the streets by permission of the militias in exchange for political concession, then the answer isn't such an obvious yes anymore. Ever heard of pyrrhic victory?"

Big if, but i'm not sure the answer changes either way.

"If it ends up that he has ceded control of Basra in order to achieve greater control of the gov't of Iraq, then it was a pretty adept move on his part."

What control has he gained over the government? Another big If.

"I think he is publicly flexing his muscle and it turns out to have been a much bigger muscle than anyone thought at this juncture."

I think just the opposite. Again- the memory hole issue. Sadr has long been considered the fabled 'other shoe' in Iraq. All manner of disaster and pestilence has long been predicted should Sadr become disatisified, and all we got was at worst a stalemate. And that's debateable

"Again, the initiative was intended to drive out and disarm the militias. That battle failed."

DRIVE WHERE? They live in Basra, where were they to be driven? The objective was to establish a government presense in Basra, which did not exist as of last week. That is a success, undeniably.

"My opinion: Sadr is waiting out the US. One day we will leave and he will be there with his militias in tact. Without US support, Iraq gov't forces may not be a match for Sadr's movement."

They seem to be his match now, with minimal US air support. I dont see any time in the immediate future when that wont be the case.

I think part of the problem is expectation. Maliki didnt give up, was never forced to withdraw, never lost a pitched battle. I find it incredibly amazing that SADR'S SURRENDER is given as proof that Maliki's offensive has failed. How does that make sense? Sadr wont fight anymore which means he must be winning?

What is a rational expectation to defeat 3 militia groups dug in to the 2nd largest city in Iraq? How long did it take the US to wipe clean Fallujah by the way? House by house. Is THAT your definition of victory? And if so how long would you allow this fledging army to accomplish it? 5 days? Thats absurd, impossible. We need to discuss realistic goals and expectations here. There is no possible way the IA could have secured the whole of Basra in less than a week against a determined enemy, that was never a possibility. Now if it was Maliki that ran away from this fight you would have a point, but Malikis troops are right where he said they would be. Sadrs arent. Isnt posession 9/10ths of the law?

Anyone know the comparative efficiency of an electric grid compared to individual generators for a city the size of Baghdad? (Sight unseen I'd guess central generation wins by an order of magnitude.)

Depends on the size of the diesel generators. House/small business ones are awful. Ones large enough to run a village/neighborhood or large business aren't too bad.

Central generation, even taking into account all the efficiency loss in transmission, will normally be considerably more efficient than local generation, but cost not efficiency is the determining factor here.

We'd need to know the cost of diesel fuel (not necessarily vehicle grade, diesel generators will run on amazingly cruddy junk) versus what's being charged off the grid.

And even if it's more expensive, the control, self-reliance, and reliability of sitting on your own generation is always attractive.

In an oil rich country, decentralized diesel generators do make a fair bit of sense, particularly if local purchases of fuel are being subsidized.

#61 (AJL): bq. Anyone know the comparative efficiency of an electric grid compared to individual generators for a city the size of Baghdad? (Sight unseen I'd guess central generation wins by an order of magnitude.)

I would not be surprised if it were worse than one order of magnitude less efficient. Other problems with small generators (except for stationary Lister Diesels): they're noisy, smelly, unreliable...

It's arguably practical even if it's not efficient. In a region of reduced trust efficiency generally declines. This is, or ought to be, well understood. Increased self-sufficiency is less efficient. I don't grow my own food (yet).

Being able to get a few kW when you want beats not being able to, if you can pay for it. If the technology and will ( /funds ) were handy, I'd say neighborhood 100-250 kW sled units bought tribally and protected by "block fathers" would be an interesting option. Still might be seen as too tempting a target. But not as easy to dynamite as power poles are.

Further, re: unreliability: it is a truism that ME-ers tend not to do preventive maintenance well (or at all?). This leads to long term inefficiencies at every scale.

[Most definition of a viable government include a monopoly on force. I am completely at a loss to how Sadr's militia controlling Basra was a preferable state of affairs to the Iraqi government controlling Basra.]

Mark, you really have no idea of what a guerilla or terrorist army is, do you? Sadr still controls the streets, because he still - proof, the last seven days - has the support of the people. Maliki picked this fight, and has now demonstrated that he can't win it, even with help from his American and British friends. The humiliation is appalling.

"Mark, you really have no idea of what a guerilla or terrorist army is, do you?"

I think i'm suffieciently versed. Anytime you care to compare notes i'm game.

"Sadr still controls the streets, because he still - proof, the last seven days - has the support of the people. "

What proof would that be? He certainly has a certain number of followers (less about a thousand), but we knew that. What Sadr has demonstrated is that he has considerably less support than many supposed. He was unable to shut down any parts of Baghdad outside of Sadr City, and only marginally disrupt other cities outside of Basra. In Basra he was unable or unwilling to hold out against a determined government attack. I don't know how many hearts and minds Sadr has won over picking a fight with the government and then backing down after enough people got killed and things broken. Not exactly Castro storming Havanna.

Whats more? American contribution in ground forces was minimal. The Iraqi government demonstrated that it could maintain forces (and peace) in Anbar, continue its crack down with a significant force in Mosul, and maintain forces in Baghdad and elsewhere in Iraq... all while assaulting Basra. THAT is a huge statement.

Seriously now- Sadr has proven he get get his people shot up and upset people for a few days before he has to back down and let the government into his enclaves. The Iraqi government has proven it can maintain multiple campaigns in Iraq while slapping down Sadr. That is a trend that will only continue. This is good news for Iraq and potentially great news for the coalition.

[ Anytime you care to compare notes i'm game.]

well for the time being, you appear to be claiming that a guerilla army has been roundly defeated because it has carried out a series of attacks and then melted back into the people. That's like saying that a navy has been forced to take to the sea.

[He certainly has a certain number of followers (less about a thousand), ]

for values of "about a thousand" which include "more than ten thousand", maybe.

[He was unable to shut down any parts of Baghdad outside of Sadr City, and only marginally disrupt other cities outside of Basra]

Just not true, unless you call what happened in Kut a "marginal disruption".

[In Basra he was unable or unwilling to hold out against a determined government attack]

Well yes he was, as evidenced by the fact that Maliki had to extend his "deadline" by ten days, and then had to give up on disarming the Mehdi Army altogether.

[I don't know how many hearts and minds Sadr has won over picking a fight with the government and then backing down after enough people got killed ]

... airstrikes?

[Whats more? American contribution in ground forces was minimal.]

... airstrikes?

[The Iraqi government demonstrated that it could maintain forces (and peace) in Anbar, continue its crack down with a significant force in Mosul, and maintain forces in Baghdad and elsewhere in Iraq... all while assaulting Basra. THAT is a huge statement. ]

You can achieve all sorts of things if you don't care about succeeding in them. The Iraqi government demonstrated that it couldn't ("or wsn't willing to") disarm the Sadr movement in Basra and simultaneously maintain order elsewhere in Iraq.

[Seriously now- Sadr has proven he get get his people shot up and upset people for a few days before he has to back down and let the government into his enclaves.]

Seriously now, can you not see that you're gerrymandering every single point to make it look like a victory for Maliki? Can you perhaps find even one single local news source that agrees with you?

More pertinently, by your standards July 1972 was a victory for the British in Northern Ireland. All the thing you're saying about the status of Sadr now were true of the IRA at the end of Operation Motorman. That was such a victory that we ended up suing for peace after 25 years of not winning. You're delusional.

"well for the time being, you appear to be claiming that a guerilla army has been roundly defeated because it has carried out a series of attacks and then melted back into the people."

Carried out? Attacks on whom? What objectives? They absorbed a series of attacks and then called it a day. I'm not particularly interested in engaging in the myth of the invincible guerilla army btw. This is not a classic popular uprising- this is a sectarian political uprising, there is no occupation. Sadr rules by force of personality. Getting his people killed for no discernable benefit will not get him far, this isnt martyrdom or ejecting the occupier.

"for values of "about a thousand" which include "more than ten thousand", maybe."

I was referring to the thousand plus killed, maimed, or captured in the last week. source

"Well yes he was, as evidenced by the fact that Maliki had to extend his "deadline" by ten days, and then had to give up on disarming the Mehdi Army altogether."

He hasnt said he is giving up, although i agree disarming was never feasable. Again- thats a blow to Maliki's credibility, perhaps, but not the Iraqi government in general who has achieved the important goal of storming Basra successfully.

"airstrikes?"
What about them? Airstrikes can continue even if every last American is out of Iraq. Its a known quantity, a force multiplier for our allies that can be available for a decade if necessary.

"You can achieve all sorts of things if you don't care about succeeding in them. The Iraqi government demonstrated that it couldn't ("or wsn't willing to") disarm the Sadr movement in Basra and simultaneously maintain order elsewhere in Iraq."

Was not the initial goal, and was always a near impossible goal. AGAIN- please explain how that could occur without a Fallujah level of violence, and a much longer amount of time? And AGAIN, who called off the fighting?

"Can you perhaps find even one single local news source that agrees with you?"

"Sources in Basra tell TIME that there has been a large-scale retreat of the Mahdi Army in the oil-rich Iraqi port city because of low morale and because ammunition is low due to the closure of the Iranian border."

Time

Mark B.,

Here is the final paragraph of the link from Time you provided to support your contention:

"That raises the prospect that even if the fighting does subside, the government's offensive will have accomplished little. Militants in Basra will have successfully defied the Iraqi Prime Minister's demand that they surrender, and his subsequent demand that they hand over their weapons. Rather than demonstrating the power of the central government and the weakness of Shi'ite factions, this week's violence may have demonstrated the opposite."

I realize that you disagree with this analysis, and I am not saying that Time's saying so makes it so. But it does seem to summarize pretty well how most people are viewing the events under discussion. This leads me to believe that my impression is not quite as absurd as you make it out to be. Of course, Time is part of the network of blame america firsters and anti-american leftwing biased media, but it was YOUR link.

I think this shows the danger of selective quotation.

AL way back at 19
...that's one.

Of the 5 paragraphs, we have:
* a radical willing to die for his cause (not Sadr winning)
* continuing to fight (not Sadr winning)
* future of the PM, especially with elections upcoming (not Sadr winning)
* how much more work we have left to do (again)
* laying down of arms (which has happened every once in a while from 2004)

Nothing there about him winning. Now that people are taking a breath, we're getting to the second round of analysis, including here - that this makes the September(I believe) elections all the more precarious.

At best, the second paragraph from the second quote points to this - and making an offer to draw his men in would strengthen him in this regard.

"I realize that you disagree with this analysis, and I am not saying that Time's saying so makes it so. But it does seem to summarize pretty well how most people are viewing the events under discussion"

Mark, i quoted a Time's source, you quoted an analysis (and you justly made that destinction).

Here's the problem- you guys are dismissing out of hand anything the Iraqi government or military says, and the US government or military. I'm not sure how you take Sadr's peoples comments, but i would say that by their history they are largely bluster and propaganda. There are a very limited number of journalists on the ground, and none of them Western. We are low on sources.

And yeah, im not particularly interested in the Time (or the Times, or CNN, or anyone else) journalists' analysis of events. At best its interesting, but its certainly not definitive or necessarilly informative.

So my quotation is NOT selective. It referenced the actual source on the ground claiming to have direct information. We can beleive that report or not, but i think its better than these journalists just giving their opinions.

Mark, honest, non-rhetorical question; does it change any of your conclusions above now that we have found out that apparently the truce you're describing above was not a unilateral offer made by al-Sadr, but was in fact the result of representatives of Maliki's party going to Qom to meet him under the auspices of the Iranian government?

Not particularly. The situation on the ground continues to speak for itself.

Go back to the beginning- a week ago it was considered a major failing of the Iraqi government that their writ did not run in Basra. Now it does. Thats important.

What does that even mean? If they haven't cleared out the militias, haven't disarmed the Mehdi Army, haven't cleared the Sadrists out of the local police force, can't guarantee the security of the oil installations and have had to agree to prisoner releases, I put it to you that their writ does not run in Basra at all.

"If they haven't cleared out the militias, haven't disarmed the Mehdi Army,"

How do you 'clear out' the militia? Seriously, what would that entail? I thought we were looking for a political solution? How does it serve the interests of anyone to besiege Basra for a month and level half of it in street by street fighting?

"haven't cleared the Sadrists out of the local police force, can't guarantee the security of the oil installations"

In a week? For gods sake why are you expecting these astounding results that even the US military couldn't achieve? I have to keep saying it, but could we please talk a little but about realistic expectations?

"and have had to agree to prisoner releases,"

Have agreed to release prisoners not charged with crimes. That doesnt seem like some crazy demand. Meanwhile arrests of wanted militants with warrants against them continues.
And lest you forget, Sadr agreed to this without a single prisoner being released yet. In a hostage negotiate, that wouldnt be viewed as a sign of strength. Sadr AT BEST walked away with a promise, nothing in hand.

" I put it to you that their writ does not run in Basra at all."

Because you refuse to see the forest for the trees, because it doesnt fit your political worldview. I'm not saying Basra is 'solved'. Im not saying Sadr is solved. Im saying the government is in a stronger position to fix some of the LONGTERM problems you mention above by, you know, BEING IN THE CITY, then by not being in the city and having it run by the militias. The magic wand solution to all life's problems you seem to demand is just unserious.

And your alleged moral victories for Sadr simply dont rank with the importance of bringing Basra back into the national fold. That was something that HAD to be done at some point. Please tell me how you would have preferred that to happen? Demolishing the city and killing every last person with a weapon?

And what does this mean?

"Iraqi army applicants wait outside the army recruitment centre in Basra, 550 km (340 miles) south of Baghdad April 1, 2008. About 1000 men from the southern cities of Basra, Amara and Nassiriya trooped to the army recruiting centre in Basra to apply to be government soldiers."

link

This wouldnt have been possible a week ago.

And yes, some of them are probably Sadr-ist moles. What that fraction is, is impossible to determine from here.

bq Have agreed to release prisoners not charged with crimes. That doesnt seem like some crazy demand.

Perhaps President Bush will now accede to the demands of the attorneys (despite the fact they are unable to meet their clients) of those help without charge in Guantanamo Bay?

This war is rapidly turning "freedom" and "democracy" into something no sane person would prefer over dictatorship.

dsquared - does it change your views at all that Sadr is offering to disband his militia in the face of a unified political opposition?

A.L.

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Recent Comments
  • TM Lutas: Jobs' formula was simple enough. Passionately care about your users, read more
  • sabinesgreenp.myopenid.com: Just seeing the green community in action makes me confident read more
  • Glen Wishard: Jobs was on the losing end of competition many times, read more
  • Chris M: Thanks for the great post, Joe ... linked it on read more
  • Joe Katzman: Collect them all! Though the French would be upset about read more
  • Glen Wishard: Now all the Saudis need is a division's worth of read more
  • mark buehner: Its one thing to accept the Iranians as an ally read more
  • J Aguilar: Saudis were around here (Spain) a year ago trying the read more
  • Fred: Good point, brutality didn't work terribly well for the Russians read more
  • mark buehner: Certainly plausible but there are plenty of examples of that read more
  • Fred: They have no need to project power but have the read more
  • mark buehner: Good stuff here. The only caveat is that a nuclear read more
  • Ian C.: OK... Here's the problem. Perceived relevance. When it was 'Weapons read more
  • Marcus Vitruvius: Chris, If there were some way to do all these read more
  • Chris M: Marcus Vitruvius, I'm surprised by your comments. You're quite right, read more
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