Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Who's on first..?

One of the most difficult things about this "war" we're enjoying in Iraq is that not only is it difficult to tell who the players are, the scorecard is constantly being revised, printed backwards, stuffed with loaded terms, and outright falsified by the scorers, both managers, the second assistant groundskeeper AND the ballpark organist.The most recent example of the seems to be the recent fighting between the Maliki Metal Mulisha (a.k.a. the "Iraqi Army") and the Jaysh-al-Mahdi of Muhammad al Sadr.

Conventional wisdom has it that:

1. The JAM "won" - as much as anyone won - the latest round, and
2. The two sides are in a holding pattern "truce" as the Malikists (Dawa and SIIC) and their allies try and figure out a new approach.

But is CW right?

Over at missing links, our man the Badger is sniffing out a change in the wind: a Green Zone confabulation between the Occupation, our Malikist running Chihuahuas, and their Sunni rivals in the Iraqi Accord Front to crush the Sadrist militia using the military power of the American supermilitia.

Maybe. Kinda. Sorta. Nobody's sure.

What DOES seem to be the case is that the narrative being prompted from, among other places, the current Administration is that Sadr is a "radical cleric" and his militia is made up of fierce Muslim baddies who would roll you for a nickel and stab you for an extra dime.

As opposed to the Badr Corps and the Kurdish peshmerga, who love peace, the writings of Tom Paine and cute, furry puppies, I understand.

So among my questions for Ambassador Crocker and GEN Petraeus this week would be:

1. Assuming that you can help the "government" of Iraq crush the JAM militia - and I assume you can - will this mean that the poor Shiites it claims to be fighting for will instead become partisans of the current government and U.S. plans for Iraq, or, since Sadr (take away the Muslim claptrap) is sorta Juan Peron in a turban, will they become the descamisados of Iraq and present the same sort of long term disruption that the originals did in Argentina?

2. Is there any reason to assume that the JAM is more harmful to long-term Iraqi political stability than, say, the Badr Corp or the peshmerga?

3. If the JAM needs to be disarmed by force, what should we do about the OTHER militias in Iraq?

4. Does this risk becoming a "Lebanon moment" in Iraq for U.S. troops?

I'l be the first to admit: I don't know the answers to these questions. But I sure hope someone asks them. And I sure hope that our Iraqi proconsuls have some really, really, good answers.

Update 4/8 p.m.: I may not know the answers...but it doesn't stop me from bloviating - my guesses in the "Comments" section.

18 comments:

Charles Gittings said...

Testing 1, 2, 3...

Anonymous said...

Sigh.

srv

J.D. said...

Hey, FDC! My blog is up for comments at http://buggieboy.blogspot.com.

JD from Intel Dump

Pluto said...

Maliki seems to disagree with the CW. He's pushing into Sadr City with considerable US support (of course, otherwise he wouldn't be going anywhere).

Looks like he really IS determined to make this moment a "vital moment in the history of a free Iraq" to quote our Prez. As FDC has already noted, this is a particularly opaque war but everything I see suggests that this is, at best, a gutsy choice (some would call it foolhardy).

True, JAM would prefer to have some peace to retrain and rearm before the elections and it is generally best to attack your enemy when he's tired and low on ammo but there is considerable evidence that suggests that the IA and especially the IP aren't in much better shape.

Grant commented at the battle of Petersburg that the only advantage that the Union Army had was endurance. I'm not sure that Maliki can make a similar claim.

FDChief said...

Hi, charlie, pluto, JD...

JD - I'll be right over. Whoohoo, guys - party at JD's place!

FDChief said...

Pluto: I agree that Maliki is either showing some serious 'sack here or he's desperate enough to be stupid.

My personal suspicion is that this is a long-term mistake but that with the big club of American power he will muddle through for now - didn't the Soviets have a saying "Quantity has a quality all its' own"? With U.S. air and ground power Maliki doesn't have to have much quality. At least in the short run.

FDChief said...

So I said I'd guess the answers to the four questions I asked. Here they are, in order:

1. My guess is the latter. I suspect that just as Saddam was Saddam to a large degree because Iraq was Iraq, I think Sadr is a product of poor Shiite anger and frustration as much as the anger and violence are the product of Sadr. My understanding is that a lot of his partisans are the disenfranchised and dirt-poor, and that the more middle-class Shia - the kind that back Dawa or SIIC - are unlikely to let them belly up to the occupation spoils table. I think this offensive may bloodlet them and push them down for a while but unless they're given a chance at the goodies they'll continue to be a long-term problem.

2. This I honestly don't know. I don't get the sense that the "government" militias have quite as much open criminality - but then again, they don't have to. They can call their theft "taxation"...

3. ISTM that one law is being applied to the JAM and another to the Awakenings, the Badr and the peshmerga. I can't but see this as a Bad Thing: when the law applies to you because you're an enemy of the government and not to me decause I belong to it, the very notion of "law" begins to become a fiction - one of those "forbids rich and poor alike to steal bread and sleep under bridges" sort of thing.

4. Yes and no. I think that the circumstances are very different. The 24 MEU was very alone, exposed and outnumbered in Beirut in 1983. We are the biggest and baddest militia in Iraq today. BUT - I worry that we are doing the same thing we did then: losing sight of the fact that because some of the wogs look like us and talk like us doesn't mean they are the best wogs to back. Or maybe they are, but not for those reasons.

Sadr gained a lot of popularity - and still retains some - because he stayed while guys like Jaafari, Maliki and Allawi ran away from Saddam. It gave them the Western patina they use to impress us simple Yankees...but I suspect that the Iraqis aren't nearly as impressed.

I think this may be a short term gain for "our" Iraqis. But not so sure this isn't like the Missouri Compromise - just kicking the can down the road to a day when everyone will be even angrier and less willing to compromise.

Thoughts?

Keith G said...

If Sadr were to be bagged, what then? Would the main of his support rally around a new guy or would they splinter and go to ground, perhaps causing all manner of smaller but still bloody trouble?

And since he is a religious leader how can squashing him, actually or figuratively, not cause blow back?

Publius said...

Overall comment here WRT Sadr. I have a hard time keeping these various players straight, but it's my impression that he's the closest thing to the real deal there is. He is the one leader-guy who isn't a puppet of the foreign occupation and IMO that will continue to pay off for him. He may never gather enough support to win the big casino, but I think he'll be able to be a thorn in the side as long as he wants. That, and his Iranian connections will continue to make him a force to be reckoned with. Oh, and he's a slick dude, too. I think he's got the potential to be Bolivar. FDC puts his finger on it here: lots mo' po' folk than rich folk in Iraq.

Maliki is a doofus, but he's our doofus. This will keep him going for a while; this is also why he can get away with stupid things, esp so long as the Deciderer is in power. But the wheel is turning. U.S. force reduction is in the wind. Even if McCain wins in November, you can bet the next congress—which will certainly be more heavily Democratic—won't allow itself to be mugged like it did with Bush. And in this environment, I'm not so sure the Air Force and Navy can tip the balance once ground forces slip below a certain critical mass. What I think is happening is that the wolves are kind of biding their time, waiting for the U.S. to tire of the game. WRT Maliki himself, rather than Bolivar, I see Nguyen van Thieu, who also spoke good English and looked sharp in a suit. Funny thing was, most of Thieu's "constituents" didn't think much of him. Something to do with failure to provide security and services and with his henchmen stealing everything in sight.

WRT different laws/rules, well, gee, FDC, what do you expect? It's been like that in most of the world since long before anyone even dreamed of the "U.S.A." These guys just can't help themselves. It's what they do. And then there is this country. Check criminal sentencing disparities between crack and the coke the rich folk use. And check how investment bankers are being treated when they go belly-up. But don't you dare fall behind on your payments.

Agree, the Lebanon parallel isn't there. Not when it comes to us. But the Iraqis, or whatever one wants to term them, well......

Good to see you out there pitching, FDC.

FDChief said...

Publius: Y'know - I thought of my ol' personal fave, Nguyen Cao Ky, myself, except wasn't he a VNAF zoomie? So he had at one time actually done something, which is about one more thing than our boy Maliki has done, unless you count scurrying out of the country ahead of Saddam's hitmen.

I agree that we're making the mistake of picking the wogs most like us (the Thieus) rather than the prickly sorts (the Ho Chi Minhs) that have the real guts and brains to bring the wild men to heel. But why go against tradition? The American as the Man Who Know Too Little is too cliche' to work against. Sometimes you just gotta be who you are.

Unfortunately, those of us without a trust fund are gonna be the ones picking up the tab for this foolishness...

mike said...

Some WAGs of my own:

#1 "Assuming that you can help the "government" of Iraq crush the JAM militia - and I assume you can -"

Depends on what the meaning of 'crush' is. Sadr appears to be fairly slick. I expect he will survive and make accommodations. He may well sell out some of the more uncontrollable factions of his militia but not the core group. However, in the long term if he outlives his usefulness to the ayatollahs to his east, then he and his faithful will end up being crushed by character assassination rather than by us or by the IA.

#2 As you say the "government" militias may not have as much open criminality as the JAM. However, that does not make them less harmful to long-term Iraqi political stability.

The Badr Corps is responsible for revenge killings, and the assassinations of hooch sellers, hoochy-coochy women, and your occasional Iraqi government official deemed an enemy of Iran. No stability there. (BTW, I thought they changed their name from Badr Corps to the kinder and gentler sounding “Badr Organization of Reconstruction and Development”?).

And since the Peshmerga is reportedly sending guerrillas into Turkey, how do they qualify as contributing to the stability of Iraq?

#3 “If the JAM needs to be disarmed by force, what should we do about the OTHER militias in Iraq?”

Will we go house to house to confiscate JAM weapons hidden in privies or in the women’s quarters? Will the IA? Certainly we have seen evidence that the IP will not. There may be a few weapons caches uncovered for the media but look for the slight of hand of an Iraqi Grigori Aleksandrovich Potemkin when it happens.

#4 No comment, you nailed it with your answer.

mike

PS - Off topic: Are those four stars starting to weigh heavy on General Petraeus’ shoulders? I swear I thought he was stooping on CSPAN today or was that my imagination?

FDChief said...

keith g: Yeah, that's kinda my feeling, and what I meant when I said upthread that "Sadr is Sadr because poor, disenfranchised Shiites are poor, disenfranchised Shiites". Or something like that.

I think that Maliki and his American patrons are being too optimistic about this knightly assault. I think that Sadr - or someone like him - needs to be dealt in to get some sort of accomodation.

But the problem is that IF he is, then things get sticky for the occupation. 'Cause Sadr in will keep demanding that the GIs get out.

BUT - if they CAN squash him, they might succeed in forcing an accomodation. Killing Robspierre managed to crush the Jacobins pretty effectively. OF course, the result was the incompetent Directory and then a dictator. But, hey, we'll worry about that after we get the devil we know, right?

FDChief said...

mike: I guess what I meant is that I suspect that if the Malikists manage to assemble this Grand Coalition of theirs they can attrit the Sadrists to a significant degree. I don't think they can actually exterminate them - that'd take a level of American aquiesence unthinkable in a cable news era. But reduce his military effectiveness.

I suspect that Sadr himself will hang around regardless, tho - you're right. So far he's been fairly astute in that regard.

Yeah, I think Petraeus is finding how long every day is when you have to herd the same fucking cats and listen to your "supporters" behind you crowing about what a good thing it is that you're there or else the cats would sleep all day and lick their asses.

mike said...

Reading over my post from last night, I recant.

Perhaps Monsieur Muqtada is finished and that is why he is hiding in Qom. He knows that if he were still in Iraq he would be too tempting a target both for assassins and swift-boaters. But while he is studying theology in Qom he may be untouchable on both fronts.

I do like his latest statement though. Here is an extract as filtered by today's Seattle PI and the AP:

"I call on the Iraqi government, if it exists, to work to protect the Iraqi people, stop the spilling of its blood and the abuse of its honor."

Wonder if he writes his own speeches?

mike

Anonymous said...

Mike: "However, in the long term if he outlives his usefulness to the ayatollahs to his east, then he and his faithful will end up being crushed by character assassination rather than by us or by the IA."

Mike, Sadr is the guy who opposes Iranian influence; it's the Badr guys and SCIR (i.e., the Iraqi government) who are known to be well-connected in Iran.

-Barry

mike said...

Barry -

Concur. That is why the Iranians are courting him.

I believe that either:

a] Tehran is hedging their bets by playing several sides in the Iraq game; or

b] there are separate groups in Tehran each with their own agenda and with a favorite dog in the Iraqi Shia-on-Shia food fight.

Probably a combination of both.

sheerahkahn said...

Hey FDC, nice blog, and what are you? 7'10" tall?

Anyway, it's a clap trap over in Sadr-land, and busting chop's there isn't going to win to many friends...personally, we should just stay the hell out of the way...let the figure it out.

Have to agree though...lil Prince Petraeus is looking like he's coming close to saying, "F^ck it, I'm done!"
Perhaps he'll man up, and take one for the team by calling Bush out...just wish he'd do it sooner rather than after the fact.

FDChief said...

Probably a combination of both.

Gotta go with you on this one, Barry. One of my big issues with our continuing involvement is that to really understand the politics of this region to play them well would require the cunning of a cunning fox appointed Dean of Cunning at Cunning University (as Blackadder would say. And who do we have?

The Deciderer.

Go figure THAT one out...

Perhaps he'll man up, and take one for the team by calling Bush out...

Hi, sheerah!

His performance this week leaves me with no doubt that he's hitched his wagon to the GOP star.

ISTM that the real bottom line in Iraq now is:

1. The solution is now either partition or some sort of Grand Concert between the factions, and

2. We can't openly accept partition (we promised the Arab World we wouldn't) and the social basis for enduring compromise doesn't exist in Iraq any more than it does in most other post-Ottoman "states".

So the mismatch between what we want and what we can obtain ensures a Groundhog Day of endless fighting for a hill that can't be taken - unless the Mahometans decide to go to the hill, and we lack the credibility to lead them there.

WASF, basically...