G. Porter on Basra

Very smart piece. In Asian Times.

(A) Key quotation:

Revealing the contradictions built into the US position in Iraq, even as it was blaming Iran for the alleged renegade units of the Mahdi Army, the US was using the Badr Organization, the military arm of the ISCI, to carry out raids against the Mahdi Army. The Badr Organization and the ISCI had always been and remained the most pro-Iranian political-military forces in Iraq, having been established, trained and funded by the IRGC from Shi’ite exiles in Iran during the Iran-Iraq war…

But the Badr Organization had become the indispensable element of the Iraqi government’s security forces, who could be counted on to oppose the Mahdi Army in the south. And in a further ironic twist, it was the leaders of the ISCI and of the Nuri al-Maliki government, which depended on Iranian support, who insisted last summer and autumn that the US should credit Iran with having prevailed on Muqtada to agree to a ceasefire. The close collaboration of the US command with these pro-Iranian groups against Muqtada appears to be the main reason for the State Department’s endorsement of that argument last December.

Porter refers to two pillars of Petraeus’ strategy–one being the self-imposed ceasefire (hudna) by Sadr and his Mahdi Army. The other he does not mention but it is clearly the Sunni Awakening Movement. Unfortunately that second pillar is a tad wobbly at the present moment as well.

To be fair and balanced on this one, the US contradictions are certainly in place–and they go deeper than Gareth mentions. The US’ two main Iraqi allies–the Kurds and the SIIC are both in favor or regional autonomous zones which works against the stated goal of US policy (unified Iraq). Sadr (whose anti-occupation, anti-American) is actually in favor of an unified country and strong central government (another US plank).

And the SIIC is attacking now because the Mahdi Army would win in a coming new set of provincial elections in the South most likely.  So the US is supporting an Iranian-backed militia to destroy a party so that free and fair elections don’t take place–though again the official policy is democracy for the country.  How’s that for democracy promotion?

So all that is certainly the case. But what is also clear is that Iran has been playing both sides (5 dimensional chess game they play) in the Shia fight. That way they can continue influence however it eventually shakes out between Sadr and Hakim and their respective crews.

Oh and by the way, the Mahdi Army (unsurprisingly) is beating the Iraqi Army. If the British couldn’t get rid of the militias in the South, if the US couldn’t dislodge the insurgency in Iraq (eventually they just bought them off–see story above on how we are late in our payments….not smart), and the Israelis couldn’t destroy Hezbollah–how the hell is the Iraqi Army going to de-legitimate and destroy the Mahdi Army?

The Sadrists simultaneously win power on the streets through strength/resistance and by being viewed as being persecuted by unjust ruler (Maliki seen as US stooge).  This has deep resonance in Shia Islam which is built around the martyrdom and persecution of Imam Husayn.  (Recall that Moqtada’s father was murdered by Saddam and his thugs).

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