Sadr's Shiite Mahdi militia has been obeying a ceasefire he imposed several months ago. But Sadr shows signs of ending that ceasefire in response to a Baghdad central government launched offensive to seize Basra from the Mahdi and other militias.
BAGHDAD — A cease-fire critical to the improved security situation in Iraq appeared to unravel Monday when a militia loyal to radical Shiite Muslim cleric Muqtada al Sadr began shutting down neighborhoods in west Baghdad and issuing demands of the central government.
Simultaneously, in the strategic southern port city of Basra, where Sadr's Mahdi militia is in control, the Iraqi government launched a crackdown in the face of warnings by Sadr's followers that they'll fight government forces if any Sadrists are detained. By 1 a.m. Arab satellite news channels reported clashes between the Mahdi Army and police in Basra.
The Iraqi military is trying to take control of the southern Iraqi city of Basra and the Madhis don't want to surrender to the Baghdad government. Prime Minister Maliki and Sadr are in something of a game of chicken. Will one of them blink?
The Mahdi Army, believed to number up to 60,000 fighters, was battered by U.S. troops in a series of battles in 2004. But the militia appears to have regrouped and, according to commanders, is ready to respond to "provocations."
According to the three commanders, the militia has received fresh supplies of weapons from Iran — contradicting repeated Iranian denials that it is supporting Iraqi militias.
The weapons, the commanders said, included rockets, armor-piercing roadside bombs and anti-aircraft guns that could be effective against low-flying helicopters.
Additionally, they said an infusion of cash from Iran has been spent on new communication centers equipped with computers with Internet connections, fax machines and mobile satellite telephones.
How fast is their broadband access? Do they stream live feeds of cars getting blown up?
The US government claims the latest violence from Madhis comes from rogue members. Does the US believe this or is this posturing in order to give Sadr room to get back on the plantation?
"The cease-fire is over; we have been told to fight the Americans," said one Mahdi Army militiaman, who was reached by telephone in Sadr City. This same man, when interviewed in January, had stated that he was abiding by the cease-fire and that he was keeping busy running his cellular phone store.
The drop in violence in Iraq has generally been attributed to four elements 1) More American forces and the change in tactics to counterinsurgency; 2) The Awakening movement; 3) The Sadr ceasefire; and 4) The ethnic cleansing and physical separation of the various sides.
It's hard to say for sure, which of these factors was the most important. The Bush administration will tell you it's all about the troop levels. I've tended to believe it's more of a mix and was most inclined towards the Anbar Awakening and the sectarian cleansing as the important factors. But when you look at the data it really seems to indicate that the Sadr ceasefire may have been the key.
He shows a graph where the biggest decline occurred in early 2007 - too early for the surge to be responsible. Another later big drop came around August 28 when Sadr told his forces to stop fighting.
In his article "The Myth of the Surge" Nir Rosen argued in The Rolling Stone that "The Awakening" movement of Sunnis to work as security forces under US supervision came in large part because the US bribed Sunnis to stop fighting American forces.
Now, in the midst of the surge, the Bush administration has done an about-face. Having lost the civil war, many Sunnis were suddenly desperate to switch sides — and Gen. David Petraeus was eager to oblige. The U.S. has not only added 30,000 more troops in Iraq — it has essentially bribed the opposition, arming the very Sunni militants who only months ago were waging deadly assaults on American forces. To engineer a fragile peace, the U.S. military has created and backed dozens of new Sunni militias, which now operate beyond the control of Iraq's central government. The Americans call the units by a variety of euphemisms: Iraqi Security Volunteers (ISVs), neighborhood watch groups, Concerned Local Citizens, Critical Infrastructure Security. The militias prefer a simpler and more dramatic name: They call themselves Sahwa, or "the Awakening."
At least 80,000 men across Iraq are now employed by the Americans as ISVs. Nearly all are Sunnis, with the exception of a few thousand Shiites.
Can the US keep the Sunnis bribed and in approved militias? Will Sadr treat the US withdrawal and attacks in the central government forces as reasons to resume fighting? How much has the ethnic cleansing reduced the number of flash points? I expect the factions to resume fighting eventually.
|Share |||By Randall Parker at 2008 March 25 09:50 PM Mideast Iraq Insurgency|