March 26, 2008

A Town Called Malice (Updated)

You know who was cool? The Jam. What a great band. You know who isn't cool? JAM -- Jaish al-Mahdi. Those guys pretty much suck. Fighting continued yesterday in both Baghdad and southern Iraq. News reports are linked below, followed by Abu Muqawama's much-valued analysis.

The New York Times
al-Jazeera (English)
al-Jazeera (Arabic)

Several of this blog's more considerate readers were alarmed by this sentence in the reports: "The Basra operation, which senior Iraqi officials had been signaling for weeks, is considered so important by the Iraqi government that Mr. Maliki traveled to the city to direct the fighting, several officials said."

Jaysus, how bad a cock-up can we expect this to be if Maliki's directing the fighting?! Abu Muqawama, however, is more sanguine about this. He would much rather Maliki take the credit/blame for this operation than he would some American or British general. (The British, by the way, have stayed at home for the fighting in Basra, electing not to get involved. A wise decision, probably, though the Guardian editorial page -- an instrument often capable of playing but one note -- claims this is further evidence the British Army should be withdrawn immediately.)

The real "take-away" you should glean from these events in Baghdad and southern Iraq, though, is the fact that these operations against the Shia militias are only possible because JAM is much less powerful than it once was and Maliki no longer really depends on Sadr to rule. This might be very good news in and of itself.

Abu Muqawama will be updating this post throughout the day. In the meantime, some good news:

American League Standings
Boston 1 / 0 / 1.000
New York 0 / 0 / .000

Update: Dan Senor and Roman Martinez -- two of the well-meaning yet completely unqualified Republican loyalists sent to work in the CPA in 2003 -- had an op-ed on the demise of Moqtada al-Sadr in the Wall Street Journal a few days back. They made some good points in spite of themselves, but given that neither man can claim to be a sophisticated observer of Iraqi Shia politics, they miss a lot. Such as ... ISCI, anyone? Do you think they might have had something to do with the decline in influence of Sadr? Maybe? The surge did not defeat Sadr, fellas. Sadr has just gradually been losing ground in the competition for power and resources to other Iran-backed groups.

Update II: Emma Sky, Gen. Odierno's political adviser in 2007, has generously allowed Abu Muqawama to print the following relevant paragraph from her forthcoming and much-anticipated article for RUSI Journal on the Surge:

JAM used to be viewed as the protectors of the Shia, standing up to the “US Occupation”, retaliating against Sunni attacks and revenging the destruction of the Samarra Mosque. However, JAM’s popular support greatly decreased as their reputation became tarnished by criminal behavior, assassination campaigns, and infiltration of government institutions. With a steep reduction in Al-Qa’ida in Iraq violence and anti-Al-Qa’ida in Iraq Sunni efforts, as well as improved ISF capabilities, the Shia population no longer feel they need JAM’s protection.

That said, she warns JAM's grassroots appeal remains strong. This fall's provincial elections should be a real test. ISCI and the Badr Brigades, remember, are dismissed as "Iranian" by many Iraqis, including Sadr's followers. (Abu Muqawama should point out that in the 1980s, Amal in Lebanon similarly dismissed Hizbollah as, alternately, "Iranian" and "the petrol party." And we all know how that ended.) For those who want to really get into the weeds as far as southern Iraqi politics are concerned, go here.

Update III: Why, some wonder, is the U.S. closer to the Iran-backed ISCI and Badr Brigades than it is with the Sadrites? Why does this make sense? Two Baghdad political veterans have ruefully pointed out to Abu Muqawama that while Sadr has more popular support, the ISCI crowd have something more valuable: they speak English. One former State Department veteran with whom Abu Muqawama spoke a few months ago pointed out that former Iraq honcho Meghan O'Sullivan was particularly vulnerable to falling under the sway of those politicians who didn't just speak in that confusing gutteral language where they write from right to left in co-joined letters. Ergo: they speak English, so they must be our friends! Hoo-ray, democracy!

Update IV: For continuing AM Basra coverage, click here.