Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Showdown at Basra

The British turned Basra over to Iraqi authorities in December, 2007, leaving the new government to deal with a three-way ongoing shootout.

Bad News in Basra

"CNN military analyst and retired Air Force Gen. Don Shepperd said the intra-Shiite struggles will have an impact on stability in Iraq, particularly in Basra.

" 'I think you're going to see significant combat in a very highly populated area of Basra. And, you're going to see a lot of innocent civilians killed as the militias war against Iraqi security forces. This is going to be ugly for the people of Basra.' "
(from "Iraqi forces battle militia fighters" CNN (March 26, 2008))

It sounds like some Shiite militias - or maybe militants - are settling disputes with other Shiites the old-fashioned way: by shooting people.

About 100 so far.

There's a New Sheriff in Town

Iraq's prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, said the Shiite militants 72 hours to turn in their weapons. The situation reminds me of that scene in westerns, where the sheriff says something like, "Ah'm givin' you until sunset to get outa town, Bart."

According the American military, those "outlaws" or "rogue" militia members that Iraqi troops are fighting aren't Muqtada al-Sadr's militias. If they were, the 'cease fire' that's been on between the Sadr city Shiite and Iraq's government would be over.

And that would be trouble. Obviously.

I'm no expert, but my guess is that those "rogue" militia members are as likely to give up their weapons as Bart is to quietly leave town. Which means that this is going to be a bad weekend in Basra, and elsewhere.

I suppose that Prime Minister al-Maliki's 72-hour ultimatum could be seen as an example of cowboy diplomacy.

After all, the situation in Basra is supposed to be a three-way power struggle between
  • Sadrists
    (that's Muqtada al-Sadr's bunch)
  • The Fadhila party
    (short for Fadhila Islamia (Islamic Virtue), an Islamist group)
  • Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq
    (ISCI - a group with an interesting history)1
Conventional wisdom, in some quarters at least, would say that in a complex situation like this, the authorities should engage in meaningful dialog with representatives of the parties involved: Even if the talks were to discuss why the fighting is still going on.

Instead of that enlightened policy, al-Maliki's government has given the people who are killing each other, and Iraqis who get in their way, an ultimatum.

That isn't very "diplomatic." But it might work.

I don't mean to imply that what's going on in Basra is simple. It isn't.

The International Crisis Group ("Working to Prevent Conflict Worldwide") points out that ISCI has changed from "Iranian proxy militia to Iraqi governing party," and opines that the Bush administration is following a dangerous course by supporting them as a counter to Sadr's forces. The same group said that America "should take advantage of its privileged ties with the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI) to moderate the party’s behaviour and curb its sectarian practices rather than use it as an instrument to confront the Sadrists." Reuters (November 15, 2007)

A post at "Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty" points out that, although the situation is dangerous, the Basra mess is an opportunity for the Iraqi government to show its strength and competence in dealing with a crisis. Problem is, if the Iraq's government doesn't succeed, there's likely going to be another round of assassinations, bombings, beheadings, and whatever other mayhem the various parties can dream up. ("Iraq: Al-Basrah Clashes Could Prove Ominous" Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, contributing analyst Sumedha Senanayake (March 26, 2008).

Showdown at Basra: Taming a Wild Town

But, complicated or not, I think that the first step to sorting out the mess is for the Iraqi government to establish order: or at least a situation where people can walk down the street without getting perforated.
1The Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq used to be the "Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (Al-Majlis al-'Aala li al-Thawra al-Islamiya fi-l-Iraq) - in 2007, it dropped "Revolution" and became the much nicer-sounding Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (Al-Majlis al-'Aala al-Islami al-Iraqi)
Update March 27, 2008

" International Zone under curfew as attacks continue" CNN (March 27, 2008)

International Zone is another name for the Green Zone that's often in the news from Baghdad.

Among other people, an American government official has been killed in the recent attacks.

One thing that jumps out at me is that quite a few people in the Iraqi and American governments seem to be bending over backwards to make it look like Muqtada al-Sadr's militias aren't involved in the fighting.

CNN reports: "Fighting between Iraqi government troops and what officials call rogue or outlaw members of Shiite militias has spread through southern Iraq's Shiite heartland to Baghdad since the launch of a government crackdown in Basra on Tuesday." In context, the "officials" are probably Iraqi officials.

American's State Department's director of Iraq affairs, Richard Schmierer, said that Sadr's cease-fire wasn't collapsing, and blamed the violence on "marginal extremist elements" who've made themselves part of the Sadrist movement.

On the other hand, "dozens of gunmen kidnapped the spokesman for the Baghdad security plan, Tahseen Sheikhly. Three of his guards were killed and his house burned in the attack, which an Interior Ministry official said was carried out by "outlaws," a reference to al-Sadr's militia."

The only things that seems certain is that the situation in Iraq is complicated, and that there's going to be more fighting.

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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.