With the understanding that the shooting will probably go on for a while, it looks like the endgame is shaping up for the clusterfuck in southern Iraq. All the shouting for winners and losers, I think, overlooks the pre-modern and tribal character of this whole farrago. The endgame appears to let me make Tuesday's Thirteen "Things You Wanted To Know About Operation Freedom":1. It was the Maliki faction and its militia (the Iraqi Army or "IA") that began this mess by trying to push the Sadrists in Basra.
2. The Sadrist militia, the "Jayish-al-Mahdi" or JAM, under pressure in the south, opened the Big Dance by widening the fighting to places like Kut and Diwaniya as well as reminding the Malikists that he has a big salient - Sadr City - right in their heartland in Baghdad.
3. So the "extreme" victory conditions for the two sides were:
a) the Malikists would rout the JAM in the south while easily snuffing out fighting in the smaller theatres elsewhere: in the government's best case the Sadrists are routed in Basra and elsewhere and the local people welcome the government militias,
b) the Sadrists would hold Basra, while causing paralysis across the south as far north as Baghdad, and in doing so expose the fragility of the "IA" and its dependence on the foreign invaders: in the Sadrists best case the government falls.
4. It was NEVER likely that either side was going to achieve their extreme victory conditions. Remember, this isn't the Battle of the Bulge. This is tribal warfare, where it's more important to count coup and fight again another day. An indecisive result was nearly foreordained from the beginning, because
a) the government would have to harrow the poor Shia neighborhoods for their victory conditions, leaving a swath of dead and injured civvies. Done with sufficient ruthlessness this might, in fact, work; but the Malikists knew that their patron can't be seen to be backing the Roman way publicly. And if done poorly terror methods would simply leave an angrier group of poor Shiites to remain a headache for the Maliki faction until the next time.
b) the JAM simply doesn't have the military power to defeat the government's militia backed by the American supermilitia's land and air power.5. The actual fighting appears to have exposed several attributes about the factions involved:
a) After two to three years of "training" the "IA" (which in this case read the Badr Corps and Dawa-aligned groups - rather pointedly this move did NOT involve any of the predominantly Kurdish units) is about as effective as the fucking Sheridan, Oregon police force. The actual Iraqi national police or "IP" appears to be even less competent. With the advantage of initiative, armor and tac air the Malikist attacks appear to have stalled within a day or two and made little headway until the Sadrists melted away yesterday.
b) Conversely, the JAM appears to have come up a little way from their "beat-you-to-death-with-my-forehead" style tactics of 2005 and 2006.
c) our people on the ground don't seem to have helped the Malikists much. Dunno if that means we didn't want to, or our intel in the Sadrist areas was that poor.d) what the fuck is wrong with my goddam Army? When will we get it through our heads that when you're occupying a foreign land you have three choices: go soft, go Roman or go home. You either do your killing with a knife, or with ruthless blood and fire, or you give it the fuck up. Bombing civilian neighborhoods - no matter WHY you bomb civilian neighborhoods - in a country you own - is a fucking loser strategically and politically. After five years you'd think we'd have gotten that. But you'd be wrong. Fucketty fuck fuck!!
6. Maliki either couldn't or didn't want to push his people into a war to the knife. His brief career as "Iraqiturk" appears to be over. No one at this point seems to be willing to die for Mr. Maliki.
7. Neither side won a tactical victory, although the JAM held most of the ground it fought over, and (as the continued fighting suggests) proves that it can be sufficiently dangerous to be an irritant to be respected if nothing else.
8. On the political scale, it appears to me (the casual observer) as well as the folks at Reuters that the Malikists come away looking the more hangdog. They are the "government": imagine this as the 40th Division of the California National Guard versus the Eight-Trey Crips. You'd expect the guardsmen to go through South Central LA like a dose of salts, wouldn't you? You'd be pretty shocked if the gangstas still held the barricades outside the People's Drug on Ventura Blvd. after two days of ground assault, no? Same deal here. The JAM comes away looking slightly more competent than its last roll of the dice - of course, it would (The Badr Corps ain't 1st ID)...9. Casualty rates are meaningless here: this isn't the U.S. Third world armies still fight with people instead of weapons and in that kind of fighting people die and are expected to die by the partisans involved. Assuming that the JAM-to-IA kill ratio means anything is to shove your head up your own ass in the same way we did for a dozen years in Southeast Asia: it's gonna be dark and smell bad and it's likely to decrease your situational awareness.
10. The biggest "winner" here? Iran. By proving to the Malikists that their Yankee patron hasn't given them the ability to crush internal rivals unaided; by degrading the Sadrists slightly (and reminding them of their vulnerability); by showing their power as a broker in Iraq.
11. Runner-up? The Bush Administration. Continued factional fighting combined with poor reporting and geopolitical cluelessness produce the results of reinforcing the notion that Iraq is still besieged by "criminals" and "terrorists" and is unstable because of a lack of armed force - rather than a chaotic failed state fucking awash in armed force that lacks the civil mechanisms to subordinate conflict to compromise and will for the forseeable future. Result? Mr. McCain's Thousand Year Occupation.12. The biggest "loser"? The average Iraqi, who gets to be the grass in the elephant fight. Unfortunately for him, no one really gives a rat's ass about him except to kill him when he's thought to be "the enemy".
13. Runner up? The average American, whose treasury is being looted to support this imperial adventure unlikely to produce more than corpses and continued instability. Fortunately for him he doesn't give a rat's ass and won't until the bill comes due - at which point he'll be too busy lookng for a dry place to sleep and something tasty in the dumpster to care.
My opinion on this whole farrago?
I'm with the guys over at Defense and the National Interest: I fail to understand how a defeat for Maliki needs to be a defeat for my country. I don't think Maliki is any more our friend than I really do Sadr or al-Jaafari or al-Hakim of ISCI. I think we're being foolish targeting Sadr because he's a rabble-rouser who wants us out. Hell, I want us out, and if Sadr can hang on to power, finesse the Iranians and discourage the Al Qaeda-type takifiri jihadis, then I'm all for him. Or Jaafari. Or whoever. The notion that we need to get all swoony with these Middle Eastern despots - whether they're named Maliki or Mubarak or Musharraf - seems moronic to me. They're foreign heads of state. Back 'em when they help us, forget 'em when they screw us, their own people and generally act like bastards.
We appear to have learned nothing from our idiotic fling with the Shah.