Lots of people including me are struggling to interpret what’s going on in Iraq, largely in the absence of hard facts about the actual events and circumstances. Some see the operations there as the Iraqi government cracking down on anti-government forces lead by Moqtada al-Sadr. Others see the operations as yet another example of the futility of the U. S. involvement in Iraq.
The problem I have with the former view is that I don’t think that portraying the forces of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki as the government and those of Moqtada al-Sadr as anti-government is accurate. I think that a better view would be that one faction within the ruling coalition of the government is bringing the power of the government to bear against another member of the same coalition. They’re both the government. And they’re both anti-government, at least in the sense in which we’d think of a government.
It certainly isn’t a case of the government cracking down on militias. Each of the factions has its own militia and Sadr’s forces are the ones being cracked down on. Divide et impera? Or just Maliki trying to be the last man standing?
Prime Minister Maliki owes his position to the government formed following the December 2005 elections in which the United Iraqi Alliance, itself a coalition of parties which included both Badrists and Sadrists, formed a coalition with a couple of smaller factions, including the Iraqi Accord Front, which has since withdrawn from the Maliki government.
U. S. forces killing Saudis, Jordanians, Syrians, etc. in Iraq who kill Iraqis isn’t a civil war.
Saudis, Jordanians, Syrians, etc. killing Iraqis or Americans in Iraq isn’t a civil war.
Iraqis killing Saudis, Jordanians, Syrians, etc. in Iraq who kill Iraqis isn’t a civil war.
Americans killing Iraqis isn’t a civil war.
Iraqis killing Americans isn’t a civil war.
However, one faction within the ruling coalition killing members of another faction within the ruling coalition is a civil war and I think we’re playing a risky, dangerous game without a great deal to be gained from it by casting our lot too securely on PM Maliki’s side.
That’s pretty much the way Malcom Nance, posting at SWJ Blog characterizes the operations:
Engaging the Mahdi Militia in Basrah and labeling them as equal to Al-Qaeda in Iraq is a deadly gamble that may leave Iran the winner.
No one doubts US Supremacy on the battlefield, but this is the Iraqi Army engaged now in Basrah and by all accounts performing poorly. Any attempt to extract them will be a victory for the JAM. On the other hand the JAM can easily make it clear that hardball is a two way game, as they have done in the past. They could suddenly disappear from the battlefield, secretly open up those hidden away crates of Iranian made EFP-IEDs and make Basrah a living hell for whoever comes in with armor. JAM’s “brave, but stupid” street tactics have a low survivability rate against US soldiers but they are more than a match for the Iraqi army and police of 2008. The Iraqi army of 2009 may be a different matter, but there is no doubt that the JAM may use on any more ceasefires to train their cadres so they can continue to fight the Iraqi and US army like Hezbollah fought Israel in Lebanon.
For this gamble to be successful a) it would have to succeed and b) Maliki’s objectives would have to be consistent with our own. I think these are both long shots.
You might also want to direct your attention to this translation of a column from AlHayat, describing the politics of the confrontation.
In other words, what is at issue between the Sadrists on one side and the Supreme Council and the government on the other (according to this exposition) is the question of Sadrist political power in the provincial councils. And one important aspect of that is the question of federalism. I think this is important to keep in mind, because it has been pointed out that there appear to be differences on federalism-strategy between Maliki and the Supreme Council, and some might conclude that this makes it doubtful whether they are really ganging up on the Sadrists. It doesn’t follow. They are ganging up on the Sadrists because the Sadrists are a rival political power with a nation-wide, national-unity, anti-occupation program, and this is a threat to both of them.