Sunday, March 30, 2008

More - What Else? - Dreadful News from Iraq

About a week ago, the Iraqi government decided to attack the Mehdi Army, radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's enforcers. Last Friday, a major news network told America how things are going.

I don't think anyone was surprised at the headline: "Analysis: Iraqis' Basra fight not going well"
CNN (March 28, 2008)

The body of the analysis was routine, too. Excerpts:

"The Iraqi military push into the southern city of Basra is not going as well as American officials had hoped, despite President Bush's high praise for the operation, several U.S. officials said Friday. ...."

"The president also hailed the operation as a sign of progress, emphasizing that the decision to mount the offensive was al-Maliki's."

"But since the beginning of the government offensive four days ago, violence also has picked up in a wide area of southern Iraq, including in Baghdad's International Zone -- also known as the Green Zone -- which has been targeted by rocket and mortar attacks."

Familiar Pattern: Military Force Doesn't Work

I recognize the pattern of thought, or association: America (or, in this case, a surrogate for America)
  • Faces threat from armed and ideologically driven force
  • Ignores opportunities to continue negotiations, talks, and talks about negotiations
  • Decides to use military force against the armed ideologues
  • The armed ideologues fight back
  • Thus proving the dangers of using military force
Even today's headline isn't hopeful, once you read the article:

"Al-Sadr calls off fighting, orders compliance with Iraqi security"
CNN (March 30, 2008)

"Al-Sadr calls off fighting?" That sounds like good news. The first four paragraphs show that there's a catch:
  1. "Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr called on followers to stop shooting and cooperate with Iraqi security forces Sunday, a move Iraq's government praised as a step toward ending six days of fighting that has left hundreds dead.
  2. " 'We announce our disavowal from anyone who carries weapons and targets government institutions, charities and political party offices,' al-Sadr said in a nine-point statement issued by his headquarters in Najaf.
  3. "The statement was accompanied by demands that the Iraqi government issue a general amnesty to his followers and release any being held. The statement was distributed across Iraq and posted on the Internet.
  4. "The move was welcomed by Iraq's government, whose forces have been fighting al-Sadr's militia, the Mehdi Army, in six days of clashes with so-called "outlaws" who had taken control of much of the southern city of Basra. U.S. and coalition troops have been supporting the Iraqi offensive."
That's right: not surrender, another cease-fire.

And, the cease-fire is curiously limited. al-Sadr says his enforcers won't hit government institutions, charities and political party offices. That leaves a lot of potential targets.

Military Force, America, Iraq, and a Dangerous Cleric

So, the Iraqi government's use of military force is a failure, right?

Not necessarily.

Here's another analysis, from an international source, published today.

"New Shiite battle is a marked shift from the past"
International Herald Tribune (March 30, 2008)

This discusses the situation two days after the first analysis, but I think there's more than the developments of 48 hours involved here.


"For starters, the Shiite rebels are mainly fighting Iraqi soldiers, not American 'infidels.' Their leader, Moktada al-Sadr [!], is not defending against attacks from a redoubt inside the country's most sacred shrine, but is issuing orders with a tarnished reputation from an undisclosed location. And Iraq's prime minister, a Shiite who Americans had all but despaired would ever act against militias of his own sect, is taking them on fiercely.

"The differences represent a shift in the war, whose early years were punctuated by uprisings against Americans by a vast, devoted group of Sadr's followers, who were largely respected by Shiites. As their tactics veered into protection rackets, oil smuggling and other scams, Sadr's followers began to resemble Mafia thugs more than religious warriors, splintering and forming their own gangs and networks, many beyond Sadr's direct control."

Military force isn't the only factor here. Muqtada al-Sadr made the same sort of mistake Al Qaeda did: bullying the people he depends on for support. But military had an effect.

Anti-War Enthusiasts Notwithstanding, There's Hope

Something like the al-Sadr/Basra situation happened last year.

Then, tribal leaders, fed up with Al Qaeda's treatment of Iraqis, formed groups like the Anbar Awakening. Meanwhile:
  • The Surge made performing acts of terrorism inconvenient, at best
  • Demonstrated to Iraqis and the Iraqi government that
    • The coalition was able and willing to act against terrorists
    • Military action against terrorists was possible, and produced terrorists who were no longer able to terrorize
I think that there's a lesson or two here.
  • Military force can stop bad people from doing bad things
  • The surge worked
    • Giving the Iraqi military time to prepare for action
    • Showing that terrorists can be defeated
  • Diplomacy, defined here as unending talks, isn't effective against someone who doesn't want to give up
Finally, here's a pair of observations, and a thought.

Tribal leaders in Iraq, at considerable personal risk, formed organizations like the Anbar Awakening. As a result, Al Qaeda in Iraq and other terrorists now have a much harder time spreading death and destruction.

A religious leader, Muqtada al-Sadr and his Mehdi Army, can reasonably be defined as a terrorist/crime lord and his enforcers.

Religious leaders have their place in any culture. That place is not a secular leaders.

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Note! Although I believe that these websites and blogs are useful resources for understanding the War on Terror, I do not necessarily agree with their opinions. 1 1 Given a recent misunderstanding of the phrase "useful resources," a clarification: I do not limit my reading to resources which support my views, or even to those which appear to be accurate. Reading opinions contrary to what I believed has been very useful at times: sometimes verifying my previous assumptions, sometimes encouraging me to change them.

Even resources which, in my opinion, are simply inaccurate are sometimes useful: these can give valuable insights into why some people or groups believe what they do.

In short, It is my opinion that some of the resources in this blogroll are neither accurate, nor unbiased. I do, however, believe that they are useful in understanding the War on Terror, the many versions of Islam, terrorism, and related topics.