April 18, 2008


The martyr's son behind Iraq's militiamen: a review of Muqtada al-Sadr and the Fall of Iraq by Patrick Cockburn (Sameer Rahim, 4/18/08, Daily Telegraph)

In an article in the Wall Street Journal on March 20, two former advisors to L Paul Bremer - the American proconsul in Iraq from 2003-4 - made confident predictions about the fate of Muqtada al-Sadr.

The "surge" in troops begun last year had reduced sectarian attacks on the Shia; and support was ebbing away from the 34-year-old cleric and his Mahdi Army, he said. Earlier in the month, Muqtada had admitted his "failure to liberate Iraq".

The Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki was thinking on similar lines. On March 25, he ordered an attack on the Mahdi Army in Basra. But after five days and 500 killed, the Iraqi Army controlled less than a quarter of the city, and its soldiers were handing their weapons to Muqtada's men.

Patrick Cockburn's valuable biography makes clear that many have underestimated Muqtada over the years.

Yeesh, the Bremerites still haven't figured out how badly they biffed when they went after Mookie?

Posted by Orrin Judd at April 18, 2008 6:47 AM

The 500 killed were almost exclusively Sadrist goons, the government controlled 0 % of Basra prior to the operation, and defections and desertions were limited to less than 5 % of the total number of forces deployed in the offensive.

To call this a victory for Sadr is like saying that Hitler won the war on the western front in July 1944 because the Allies controlled less than a quarter of France at that time.

The left-wing rags spout this nonsense because they will never admit that the evil Bush is winning no matter how outrageous the lies they have to tell in order to avoid just that. Some right-wing rags seem to think that Maliki wanted to destroy Sadrism once and for all and or now disappointed. It's unlikely that Maliki ever set out to do anything like that, first of all because it isn't in the local culture to strive for total victory (that's why they constantly broker truces which they have no intention to honor) and secondly because it is neither achievable nor desirable to eliminate the Sadrist organization in one single offensive. The Sadr family is very much part of the Iraqi Shi'a community and its movement provides vital services to the population of some neighborhoods which the government would be hard-pressed to replace.

Posted by: Peter at April 18, 2008 9:11 AM

What Peter said.

Btw: my favorite article of faith of the Sadristas among us is the "but 3% of the Iraqi military defected!!!111!"

I saw John Burns and a NYT colleague on Charlie Rose a week or 2 ago, and their conclusion was that this represented a victory for the Iraqi army that would've been unimaginable 2 years ago, when the whole army would've melted away, especially if asked to fight fellow Shia.

(For comparison sake, I've read that the desertion rate of US troops in WW2 was something like 6%, well above that of the Iraqis battling Mookie)

Posted by: Jim in Chicago at April 18, 2008 9:28 AM

The defections weren't the problem, the ones who stayed, fought, and lost were.

Posted by: oj at April 18, 2008 3:13 PM

The difference is Hitler couldn't have won elections after '39. Mookie will do well in the coming ones.

Posted by: oj at April 18, 2008 3:15 PM

Not if he is running for the portfolio from Iran.

Posted by: ratbert at April 18, 2008 3:42 PM

I'm confused. Who is in control of the oil terminals and Basra's port ... and who give a $#!+ about the slums?

Posted by: Genecis at April 18, 2008 4:26 PM

Mookie's hiding in Iran, he's lost a quarter of the territory of his "state," his brother-in-law just got offed, the Iraq army gets better all the time, the rest of Iraq is united in demanding he disarm his militia (much of which doesn't obey him anyway): he's got 'em right where he wants 'em!

Posted by: PapayaSF at April 18, 2008 5:50 PM

It's a democracy. They won't vote against Mookie because the US Military walls them in.

Posted by: oj at April 18, 2008 7:37 PM

The Shi'a matter. Oil doesn't.

Posted by: oj at April 18, 2008 7:39 PM

Precisely. So why back the David Duke or Bobby Seale of the Shi'a?

He's like Jeremiah Wright with an armed gang. He's a one-grunt kind of leader. Who has been in hiding for months.

Posted by: ratbert at April 18, 2008 7:50 PM

Because he's right.

Posted by: oj at April 18, 2008 10:36 PM

About what?

Posted by: ratbert at April 18, 2008 11:22 PM

Because he's right in what way? That because of who his dad was he's got an armed gang, so he has the right to set up his own state and impose his particular religious views?

Posted by: PapayaSF at April 18, 2008 11:39 PM

That America should have left after toppling Saddam. It's the first time we've occupied a liberated people rather than a defeated enemy.

That the new state should be religiously based.

That peace and a functional postwar state required the Shi'a to cleanse the Sunni.

Posted by: oj at April 19, 2008 6:21 AM

Wrong, wrong, and wrong.

Posted by: PapayaSF at April 19, 2008 11:36 AM

No. 1 is debatable, but the country was so utterly enervated by Saddam that we really couldn't have left (remember the UN bugging out after one attack?) - the aftermath would have been worse.

No. 2 is wrong. The clearest examples are East and South.

No. 3 is also debatable - while it keeps the Sunni on their toes and forces the rest of the Arab world to face some unpleasant truths, it also excuses the worst of the Shi'a goons (as you do here, almost as a matter of faith). And that does the Shi'a no good, as they try to form a responsible government that isn't based primarily on ethnic and religious murder. I thought you opposed that sort of thing.

Posted by: ratbert at April 19, 2008 3:48 PM

The aftermath, a wholesale slaughter, would have been beneficial.

Posted by: oj at April 19, 2008 7:24 PM

Why do I get the feeling that in a year or so, we will be arguing on this blog if Basra should have been nuked in March 2008?

A wholesale slaughter of Sunnis, not all of whom are (were) recalcitrant? Or do you include the nastiest Shi'a as well, who have the added stain of being controlled by a foreign power?

Killing every Al Qaeda punk (Saudis, Jordanians, Egyptians, Syrians, etc.) is of course most excellent.

Posted by: jim hamlen at April 19, 2008 11:51 PM

Because you think the Shi'a are like the Nazis and Communists. It's a common enough misunderstanding on the Right.

Posted by: oj at April 20, 2008 7:12 AM

Of course all the Shi'a aren't like that. Just Hezbollah, Hamas, the Iranian government, and the Sadrists.

Posted by: PapayaSF at April 21, 2008 12:10 AM

Thus endeth the lesson.

Posted by: oj at April 21, 2008 7:24 AM