"But war, in a good cause, is not the greatest evil which a nation can suffer. War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things: the decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks nothing worth a war, is worse. When a people are used as mere human instruments for firing cannon or thrusting bayonets, in the service and for the selfish purposes of a master, such war degrades a people. A war to protect other human beings against tyrannical injustice – a war to give victory to their own ideas of right and good, and which is their own war, carried on for an honest purpose by their free choice – is often the means of their regeneration. A man who has nothing which he is willing to fight for, nothing which he cares more about than he does about his personal safety, is a miserable creature who has no chance of being free, unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself. As long as justice and injustice have not terminated their ever-renewing fight for ascendancy in the affairs of mankind, human beings must be willing, when need is, to do battle for the one against the other."

Saturday, March 29, 2008

It's going down in Basra

As I'm sure most of you have seen in the news lately, the port city of Basra in southern Iraq has flared up into a new front of heavy fighting, pitting the Mahdi Army (remember them?) against Iraqi security forces, backed up by American air and intel support. Some experts consider this offensive a "positive indication" that the Maliki government has found the willpower to confront those elements outside its control, and President Bush has called this a "defining moment", although so far the battle has not gone the Iraqi government's way. This certainly is a defining moment, as it will show the world whether or not the Maliki government has the will and strength to see this kind of difficult operation through until the end; more importantly, it will prove whether it can control other cities that we plan on turning over to them in the future.

A little background might help those trying to unravel the various confusing threads of what's going on down there. I asked one of our intel analysts to give me the short (and unclassified) version of how this all came about, so here it is in brief. About a month ago Moqtada al Sadr announced that he planned on continuing his Islamic studies so that he could achieve the rank of imam. This led some as yet unknown person or persons in his organization to conclude that he would be relinquishing power and lose interest in carrying on the fight. That announcement also coincided with the British turning control of Basra over to Iraqi control. The increase in coalition presence in Baghdad combined with the decrease in Basra made the latter city an ideal choice as a base of power for continued opposition to the government. So the Mahdi Army transferred its forces to the south and proceeded to fortify the city against just the type of offensive we're seeing. This fortification, combined with Iranian training and an influx of Iranian weapons, is what's made the resulting siege so much harder for Iraqi security forces than they anticipated. And the problem is not just that Basra has been made into a new Stalingrad: the training and weapons provided by Iran have made the mere process of getting to Basra very bloody, as Mahdi forces have performed well-coordinated and deadly ambushes and IED attacks against government troops rushing from Baghdad to the south. It is unclear as to whether this is the Mahdi Army as a whole rejecting the cease-fire of several months ago, or Iranian-backed elements acting on their own. In either case, the Mahdi Army has always been a festering boil on the surface of Iraqi politics, and a large, well-armed group outside the circle of federal power was always going to need dealing with sooner or later. Apparently, the Maliki government chose sooner, though they didn't realize they might be biting off more than they can chew. Anyway, that's the short, unclassified version; it at least helped me understand things a little better. It's certainly too soon to tell exactly how all of this will play out; but to quote another expert earlier this week, this could turn out to be really good, or really bad. Definitely more on this in days to come.


Other news, in brief: think Sen. McCain was off his rocker to claim that Iran was providing support to al Qaeda because the former is Shiite and the latter is Sunni? Apart from the fact that there is well-documented evidence proving precisely that, here's a short history on other Iranian collaborations with groups that didn't fall in the same theological category. Bottom line: Iran's leaders may hate Sunnis, Marxists, atheists, etc on a theological level; but they hate America oh so much more and will lend a helping hand to absolutely anyone who feels the same. Speaking of Sen. McCain, a breakdown of why his foreign policy will not, in fact, be another four years of Bush. And finally, charges against yet another Marine accused, in the words of John Murtha, of killing Iraqis in Haditha "in cold blood" have been dropped. He is the fifth of eight to have charges dismissed. As of today, there are no reports that Murtha has apologized to any of the five families.

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

May our Merciful Creator bless the true patriots of Iraq succeed against all their enemies. Both domestic and foreign.

Cincinnatus said...

If you're referring to the Iraqis who continue to volunteer at great risk to themselves for the Iraqi army and police forces, the Concerned Local Citizens groups and Sons of Iraq, I agree, God bless them and help them bring order to this country. They and their families have earned it.

CSB said...

Interesting. I hadn't heard that one of the catalysts for the Basra campaign was Mookie's decision to go to grad school. Does that mean he's trying to rival Dick Cheney in number of academic deferments????? Your readership seems to have expanded. Makes you wanna say "Hmmmmmmmm."

Matt said...

You talk about Iranian weapons/training, but from what I can tell the Badr brigade/ISCI has much more direct Iranian support than the Mahdi Army. Sadr is much more a nationalist than his opponents vis a vis Iran. I'm pretty curious as to what will happen now that Sadr's called for his men to stand down/what was the motivation there. I think the IA pretty much took its best shot and failed but we'll have to see. Also, do we have any indication is that top comment is satire or serious?

Cincinnatus said...

Regarding Iranian (specifically Quds Force) support for the Mahdi Army, I wish I could lay out more detail but unfortunately that takes me into a realm of information that, if released, would land me in jail. I hate saying 'take my word for it' without anything to back it up. All I can say is that the Mahdi army gets material support from Iran and we know it. Also, in terms of al Sadr's nationalism, I'd remind you that when the going got tough, he fled to none other than Iran. We'll see if his cease-fire call is something more than empty words, as it's unclear as to whether the elements of his militia involved in this battle are still under his control, or that of a rogue subordinate. I'm sure we'll be getting an after-action report on the Iraqi Army's performance; anything that's releasable, I'll pass on. Finally, I'd like to think that the first comment is satire, but it has an eerie familiarity to statements I've heard from various, ahem, militant organizations.

Matt said...

I think Iran is supporting pretty much any Shi'ia group this side of the Boy Scouts (though if such an organization exists in Iraq my guess is you check the finances and you'll find 'em there too) at this point. Do let me know on any afteraction IA reports though... heard some interesting analysis on the BBC where a former Iraqi professor was talking about how Maliki won this from a political perspective which, if true, is good.

CSB said...

Iraqi Boy Scouts have been supported by Spirit of America (and me) since about 2004 [http://www.spiritofamerica.net/], as well as, among others, the Church and the American military [under private initiatives, as: http://www.wnd.com/news/article.asp?ARTICLE_ID=38761 ]