This spring we were all treated to Cole cheer leading for the Mahdi army in its battle against the Iraqi military.
Let's do a little time line:
The truce between the Mahdi Army and the US military has broken down, putting a question mark over the future of the 'surge'.
Al-Zaman reports in Arabic that members of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI, formerly SCIRI, led by Abdul Aziz al-Hakim); the Da'wa Party led by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki; and the Badr Corps paramilitary of ISCI have fled their HQs in Basra and Kut, because of the threat that they will be stormed by Mahdi Army militiamen [seeking revenge for the current offensive], In fact, some such buildings already have been attacked.
Al-Zaman says its sources in the Sadr Movement confirmed that the Mahdi Army has gained control of the main road between Amara and Basra, allowing it to cut the government troops off from military supplies.
Mahdi Army Stands Firm in its Basra Neighborhoods
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 coming 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.
Why did Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki attack the Mahdi army in Basra last week?
Despite the cease-fire called Sunday by Shiite leader Sayyid Muqtada al-Sadr, leader of the millions-strong Sadr Movement, last week's battles between the Mahdi army and the Iraqi army revealed the continued weakness and instability of al-Maliki's government. Al-Maliki went to Basra on Monday, March 24, to oversee the attack on city neighborhoods loyal to al-Sadr. By Friday, the Iraqi minister of defense, Abdul Qadir Jasim, had to admit in a news conference in Basra that the Mahdi army had caught Iraqi security forces off guard. Most Sadrist neighborhoods fought off the government troops with rocket-propelled grenades and mortar fire. At the same time, the Mahdi army asserted itself in several important cities in the Shiite south, as well as in parts of Baghdad, raising questions of how much of the country the government really controls. Only on Sunday, after the U.S. Air Force bombed some key Mahdi army positions, was the Iraqi army able to move into one of the Sadrist districts of Basra.
By the time the cease-fire was called, al-Maliki had been bloodied after days of ineffective fighting and welcomed a way back from the precipice. Both Iran, which brokered the agreement, and al-Sadr, whose forces acquitted themselves well against the government, were strengthened. As of press time Tuesday morning in Iraq, the truce was holding in Basra, and a curfew had been lifted in Baghdad, though sporadic fighting continued in the capital. Estimates of casualties for the week were 350.
The campaign was a predictable fiasco, another in a long line of strategic failures for the sickly and divided Iraqi government, which survives largely because it is propped up by the United States.
Clashes Continue in Basra
Al-Hayat reports in Arabic that clashes continued to be fought in Basra on Thursday between Iraqi government troops and the Mahdi Army militia.
The LAT says Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki is intent on pursuing his struggle with the Mahdi Army militia, not only in the southern port city of Basra but in other Shiite cities as well. Apparently he thinks big talk will substitute for successful military operations.
Jonathan Steele argues that al-Sadr came out of the episode much strengthened. He suggests that Cheney may have greenlighted the operation when he was there, in hopes that it would produce dramatic good news in time for the upcoming Petraeus / Crocker appearances before Congress. If so, it backfired big time.
Likewise, the ISG pointed out that the Badr Corps paramilitary was trained by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and is close to Tehran. (See below). It fought on Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's side in the recent Basra fighting. In other words, the government side was the pro-Iranian side. The Mahdi Army and Sadr neighborhood militia forces they attacked were largely Iraqi nativists who bad-mouth Iran.
Iran admitted on Saturday that it had negotiated a ceasefire by the Mahdi Army when approached by Iraqi parliamentarians (who were from the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq and the Da'wa Party, al-Maliki's backers). In other words, while Bushco blames Iran for Iraq's instability, in fact the Iranians have tried to and often succeeded in calming the situation down.
Ma`d Fayyad of al-Sharq Al-Awsat even says, writing in Arabic, that the Iranians were annoyed with Muqtada al-Sadr over his militia activities and have more or less expelled him from Iran (though Iranian authorities denied he was ever there).
[Just imagine the mental contortions one has to do to reconcile those last three paragraphs. On second thought, don't try it. Its a good way to sprain a lobe.]
See, the whole Basra episode was an unmitigated disaster for al-Maliki and the Bush administration, leaving Iran and the Mahdi army stronger than before. So says Juan Cole.
Here is how the AP sees it today:
Signs are emerging that Iraq has reached a turning point. Violence is down, armed extremists are in disarray, government confidence is rising and sectarian communities are gearing up for a battle at the polls rather than slaughter in the streets.
Many Sunni insurgents have stopped fighting and turned against al-Qaida in Iraq, which U.S. commanders say still remains a threat.
But those Sunni groups — loosely organized and still armed — could resume the fight if the Shiite-dominated national leadership fails to deliver on promises of economic help and a share of power. Critics believe U.S. support for such groups, known collectively as "awakening councils," could set the stage for future conflict.
In the meantime, Sunnis who once shunned politics are gearing up to contest provincial elections this fall.
Shiite militiamen are reeling after military setbacks in Basra and Baghdad's Sadr City districts this spring. But it's unclear whether militia chief Muqtada al-Sadr has given up violence entirely as his Shiite rivals seek to undermine his support among the majority Shiite community.
In recent weeks, however, the factious, Shiite-led Iraqi government has won a measure of public support by standing up to Shiite and Sunni gunmen — even if a list of other goals such as constitutional amendments and a new oil law remain unfulfilled.
A new sense of confidence has emerged after recent Iraqi-run military operations against Sunni extremists, including al-Qaida, in the northern city of Mosul and against Shiite militiamen in Basra and Baghdad.
At first, the Basra operation stumbled badly, with al-Sadr's militiamen fighting government troops to a standstill as their Shiite allies in Baghdad launched attacks against the U.S.-protected Green Zone. American and Iraqi troops rushed to Basra from as far as western Iraq after local army and police units failed to perform.
But a combination of military force and political pressure on al-Sadr produced a cease-fire, enabling Iraqi security forces to expand control of part of Baghdad and Basra that had been under militia domination for years.
Brimming with confidence, Iraqi forces are turning their attention to southern Maysan province, long believed a hub of a smuggling network bringing weapons from Iran to Shiite extremists in Iraq.
And thus Cole is completely and utterly repudiated.
Cole is that worst of scholars who sees events completely through his political ideology. Things have to go badly in Iraq because Bush is the president. Therefore, it doesn't matter what actually happens in Iraq. Ideology always trumps facts.
The Cole's of the world are really complete narcissists who say "If my ideas are wrong, I don't want to be right."