Friday, March 28, 2008

What's happening in Iraq?

I just thought that with all the news about Iraq manifesting as a mess, we might need a map of the provinces to keep the news sorted out in our minds. I keep forgetting what is where, so as a public service I have imported this map. You may click to enlarge it for more detail.

The large pale green section in the west is Anbar province. You know, the one that showed how much progress we've made because it has been so calm. What gets overlooked is that it had calmed down prior to the surge, so is irrelevant to the surge arguments. Nonetheless, it's a huge chunk of turf. The tribal leaders have a lot to say about what does or does not happen there. Lots of stories there but I won't try to dig them up now.

The pale purple province in the center of the eastern part of Iraq is Diyala province, and it is in the news these days. Just to the left of Diyala is Baghdad, right in the center of things. Wasit province and the city of Kut are south of Diyala.

The one where lots of action is going on these days is Basra (or Basrah), the pale green coastal province in the southeast, a strategic location, and the city of Basra.

Here is some detail for cities from the central to the southeast region:
South of Baghdad you can see Hillah, east of Hillah you can see Kut. Heading south from Kut and slightly to the east you will see Nasiriyeh, and in the SE you will see Basra.

Now, let's see what Juan Cole has to tell us:
People are asking me the significance of the fighting going on in Basra and elsewhere. My reading is that the US faced a dilemma in Iraq. It needed to have new provincial elections in an attempt to mollify the Sunni Arabs, especially in Sunni-majority provinces like Diyala, which has nevertheless been ruled by the Shiite Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq. But if they have provincial elections, their chief ally, the Islamic Supreme Council, might well lose southern provinces to the Sadr Movement. In turn, the Sadrists are demanding a timetable for US withdrawal, whereas ISCI wants US troops to remain. So the setting of October, 2008, as the date for provincial elections provoked this crisis. I think Cheney probably told ISCI and Prime Minister al-Maliki that the way to fix this problem and forestall the Sadrists oming to power in Iraq, was to destroy the Mahdi Army, the Sadrists' paramilitary. Without that coercive power, the Sadrists might not remain so important, is probably their thinking. I believe them to be wrong, and suspect that if the elections are fair, the Sadrists will sweep to power and may even get a sympathy vote. It is admittedly a big 'if.'

Al-Hayat reports in Arabic that Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki continues to refuse to negotiate with the Mahdi Army militiamen, and said, "They have no other choice but to surrender." He did extend the deadline for them to surrender heavy arms from 3 days to 10, and promised monetary rewards to those who complied. Al-Maliki said he was unconcerned with political parties, but that he could not abide armed gangs that interfered with the work of the government. He was referring to the Mahdi Army.

Clashes continued between government troops and the Mahdi Army on Thursday in Basra and other cities in the south for the third straight day. Some 45 are said to be dead in Kut, the capital of Wasit province, and US helicopter gunships are said to have killed 60 in Hilla south of Baghdad.

On Friday morning, there are reports of clashes in Nasiriya and Mahmudiya.
He goes on to share reports from multiple sources indicating that downtown Basra is a ghost town, good prices are exorbitant, and "Water, electricity and medicine were said to be lacking for people in Basra." There were demonstrations against al-Maliki in Baghdad until a curfew was put into place. The Green Zone has been under mortar fire (and attacks are becoming increasingly accurate with the US Embassy a clear target). The factions in parliament are all over the place on what should or should not be done.

McClatchy, which has been steadfast and thorough in reporting what happens on the ground, has a long litany of events in the ongoing civil war. You can read it all at Juan's place and I recommend that those interested in what transpires in Iraq check there often. You may scroll down for earlier information.

Here are the headlines today:
President Calls Battles in Iraq a 'Defining Moment'
Washington Post - 50 minutes ago
By William Branigin President Bush today called the Iraqi government's battle against Shiite Muslim militias a "defining moment in the history of a free Iraq" that shows a commitment to "even-handed justice," and he vowed continued US help for the ...
[Defining what, exactly: "intransigent stupidity"?--the BB]
Bush says Iraq faces 'defining moment' in violence Reuters
US Planes Attack Militia Strongholds in Basra Fighting New York Times

In pictures: Iraqi violence
BBC News - 1 hour ago
A wave of violence has continued for a fourth day in Iraq, as government and coalition forces crack down on Shia militias in Basra and other cities.

Las fuerzas de la coalición prestan apoyo aéreo al Ejército iraquí ...
Terra España - hace 2 horas
Aviones de combate de las fuerzas de la coalición prestaron hoy ayuda al Ejército iraquí en los combates que libra en la ciudad meridional de Basora contra milicianos fieles al clérigo chií Muqtada al Sadr, que estallaron el pasado lunes. ...
Bagdad, 'ciudad muerta'
Bush dice que la ofensiva de Basora es un "momento definitivo ... La Vanguardia

Irak: poursuite des combats entre miliciens chiites et forces de ...
La - Il y a 44 minutes
Quatre personnes ont été tuées vendredi dans une frappe aérienne américaine dans le quartier chiite de Sadr City à Bagdad, où de nouveaux tirs de roquettes et de mortiers ont visé vendredi la "Zone verte" hautement sécurisée de la ville. ...
Irak: Maliki offre d'acheter les armes, la coalition intervient à ...
L'armée du Mahdi prend Nassirya, 120 tués à Bassorah Le Point

Miles de seguidores del clérigo Moqtada Sadr exigen la renuncia de ...
La Jornada (México) - hace 7 horas
Bagdad, 27 de marzo. Miles de seguidores del clérigo radical chiíta Moqtada Sadr se manifestaron hoy en Bagdad para exigir la dimisión del primer ministro iraquí, Nuri Maliki, quien prometió continuar la ofensiva contra los milicianos, ...
Autoridades iraquíes decretan el toque de queda en Bagdad La Crónica de Hoy
Aviones de EU atacan Basora Univisión

Dday has some comments about all this at Digby's Hullabaloo:
Before I go I just have to post about the situation in Iraq, which would be funny if it didn't involve mass death. First the Prime Minister went down to Basra to personally direct the fighting like a miniature Commander Codpiece, and he defiantly gave the ultimatum that all Mahdi Army officers must disarm within three days. After the Mahdi Army replied by, well, kicking the Iraqi Scurity Forces in the teeth, the deadline is now ten days.
I'm guessing that US-led forces joined the battle because the Iraqi forces were failing miserably, as we've seen about 25 other times in this misbegotten war. And this doesn't just include air cover, which we've been giving all along, but armor forces. And we're in the lead.
"Drawn in" like one is drawn into quicksand. Or perhaps a quagmire.

Baghdad Bush can go on all he wants, but I hope something else doesn't get lost. For two years, these Iraqi security forces, the ones who consistently get routed on the battlefield and defect to the other side and generally provide a pretext for our troops having to continue to return to battle, were organized by DAVID PETRAEUS, who now walks with angels, I'm told. We shouldn't forget this.
Josh Marshall at TPM has this to say (and his whole post merits a read):
The clearest analysis I've read is Fred Kaplan's short piece in Slate, which explains that this is not so much the Iraqi 'government' standing down an outlaw 'militia' as a face off between two militias, one of which happens to control the government. Labels aside, this seems to be al Maliki's attempt to break the Mahdi Army, possibly because Iraq is soon to hold regional elections and Maliki's supporters fear the Sadrists will do too well in the southern port city of Basra.

Fred doesn't say this, but I wonder myself if this isn't also an effort of Maliki (now allied with what used to be SCIRI) to crush the Sadrists while he still has the power of the US military behind him. Most accounts I've seen suggest that Sadr actually has more popular support than Maliki and his supporters, at least among the Shia population. It must not be lost on Maliki and his supporters that a Democrat may succeed President Bush and that that new president may be much less likely to prop up his government with American money and military might. So perhaps best to crush opponents now, with the help of the US military, in advance of that less certain future.
I especially like this note from Josh, pointing out what Bush does not want us to notice:
As an aside, President Bush is saying that Iran is, in the words of the Times, "arming, training and financing the militias fighting against the Iraqi forces." Perhaps that's true. But it's hard not to note that the Badr Organization (formerly the Badr Corps), which Maliki has allied himself with, is the outfit that was actually created in Iran under the tutelage and financing of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. So this at least seems like a rather partial take on what's occurring.
The New York Times chimes in, JAMES GLANZ and STEVEN LEE MYERS reporting:
The violence underscored the fragile nature of the security improvements partly credited to the American troop increase that began last year. Officials have acknowledged that a cease-fire called by Mr. Sadr last August has contributed to the improvements. Should the cease-fire collapse entirely, those gains could be in serious jeopardy, making it far more difficult to begin bringing substantial numbers of American troops home.

Although Sadr officials insisted on Thursday that the cease-fire was still in effect, Mr. Sadr has authorized his forces to fight in self-defense, and the battles in Basra appear to be eroding the cease-fire.


But in another indication that parts of the south were slipping from the government’s hands, a major oil pipeline near Basra was struck with a bomb around 10 a.m. on Friday, igniting a huge fire, said Sameer al-Magsosi, a spokesman for the Southern Oil Company. Before the recent security gains, the southern pipelines had been frequent targets of insurgents, smugglers and militias, but few strikes had been recorded in the past year.


One protester in Sadr City, Wissam Abdul Zahra, 27, made it clear that despite the wider implications of the Basra assault, he viewed it as a simple matter of local politics and power.

“We are expressing our freedom to defend the rights of our brothers in Basra under the pressure of Maliki and the Badr brigades.” he said. “They want to knock down the Sadrists before the provincial elections.”

This little post clearly does not explain much but at least y'all have some idea of what is going on.

Digby pointed me to Kevin Drum's helpful summary of who the players are in the current mess.
--the BB

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