2007 August 27 Monday
Mahdi Army Takes Over As British Withdraw From Basra

Make friends to live a safer life. The Brits made a deal with Shia cleric Moktada's rocking Mahdi Army to ensure a fairly safe British withdrawal.

Basra, Iraq - The last contingent of British soldiers based in the center of this southern city will leave by Friday, says a senior Iraqi security official, adding that a deal has been struck with leaders of Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army to ensure their safe departure.

As they pull back to a base outside Basra, the British will leave a vital provincial capital in the throes of a turf battle between Shiite factions one that Mr. Sadr's militia appears to be winning.

Is Sadr on a roll, headed for rule over the Shia zone in Iraq? Or will his militia fragment as soon as they near total dominance?

The Iraqi "central" government (i.e. the Green Zone government that the US continues to back) is going to try to take over once the Brits leave. But the Mahdi guys seem like they have the numerical advantage.

The Iraqi official says the palaces will be handed over to an Iraqi force dispatched from Baghdad and will not be given to the controversial provincial authority, which is embroiled in a power struggle between rival Shiite political parties. This 3,000-strong Iraqi force will consist of two Army battalions and elements from the Ministry of Interior's commando unit.

The Mahdi Army, which according to one estimate, numbers about 17,000 in Basra and is divided into about 40 sariyas (company-size military unit), is the strongest among its rivals in the militia-infiltrated police force and it has influence over vital sectors such as health, education, power distribution, and ports.

Damien Cave of the New York Times describes the incredibly fragmented and divided nature of Iraqi society.

In part, of course, Iraq remains a place pocked by violence and fear, which makes compromise difficult. But more important, say Iraqi political commentators and officials, Iraq has become a cellular nation, dividing and redividing into competing constituencies that have a greater stake in continued chaos than in compromise.

In most areas, for most Iraqis, the central government today is either irrelevant or invisible. Provinces and even neighborhoods have become the stages where power struggles play out. As a result, Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds or elements of each faction have come to feel that they can do a better job on their own.

When I refer to the central government as the "Green Zone government" I'm only partly exaggerating. It has little influence over large swathes of Iraq. Even the central government is broken up into factions with different ministries under the control of different parties and militias.

The overstretched US military can lower Iraqi deaths in limited areas. But the US military can't maintain its current level of deployment in Iraq. Some time in 2008 US forces are going to go way down. Then what happens?

What could change by the time US forces start go withdraw? More thorough ethnic purging. The fewer Shias and Sunnis living near each other will mean fewer opportunities to kill each other. Also, the local competition between militias might resolve with clear winners. Less competition for control should also lower the level of violence.

Of course, an ethnically purged nation dominated by regional militias isn't the vision that the Bush White House wants us to imagine Iraq is headed for. But if Iraq continues to head in that direction and the violence drops we can expect the Bush White House to mendaciously claim credit for the drop in violence. Will our leaders then lie their way out of Iraq declaring success the whole way? Tricky Dick "Peace With Honor" Nixon would approve.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2007 August 27 08:07 PM  Mideast Iraq Ethnic Conflict


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