Iraq: The Peace Exiled

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Showdown in Iraq: The Battle for Basra
by Jack Random
By general agreement, the most powerful man in Iraq is currently residing in Iran.  At various times over the course of America’s five-year occupation, he has been an invaluable ally and our most feared enemy.  His power and influence have been both exaggerated and dangerously underestimated.  

More than any other individual, including General David Petraeus and George W. Bush, this man was responsible for the decline in death and destruction during the American escalation known as “the surge.”
His surname is embedded in the Baghdad landscape, the son of a Grand Ayatollah and the leader of Iraq’s most powerful militia.  His political party is poised to take control of southern Iraq in the upcoming parliamentary elections.  

He is Muqtada al-Sadr and by all but the most extreme and philosophically biased accounts, he has once again stared into the eyes of the most powerful occupying army in history and its collaborators in the Iraqi government and lived to tell the tale.  

It is not the first time we have tried to eliminate al-Sadr and his Mahdi Army:  We tried at the Battle of Najaf in 2004 and again in the Battles of Diwaniya, Amarah and Karbala in 2007 before the recent offensive in the Battle for Basra.  

After the negotiated ceasefire, it is clear that Muqtada is still firmly in charge of the Mahdi Army, that his ability to mount an effective counterattack has not diminished, and that he fights when he wants to fight and regroups during periods of relative calm.  

In short, Muqtada al-Sadr is a prominent enemy of the occupation whose standing with the Iraqi people has only grown stronger and more passionate.  His soldiers are prepared to fight for a cause while the government forces are designed for parades.  

As the name implies, the surge was intended as a temporary show of force, with 30,000 additional fighting men and women supplanted by a substantial increase of aerial bombardment that would subdue our enemies and empower political allies at home and abroad to claim success.  It succeeded in giving the Republican nomination for the presidency to Senator John McCain but in terms of subduing the resistance in Iraq it failed spectacularly.  

If not for the air support of American and British forces, the rout of government forces in Sadr City (Baghdad), Kut, Samawa, Nasiriya and Hilla as well as Basra, would surely have been complete.  According to official reports, some 165 died in Nasiriya (300 wounded), twelve in Karbala (500 detained), 215 were killed in Basra (600 wounded, 155 detained) and 550 members of the local police including 150 officers were dismissed for refusing to engage in the battle.  

These are the official numbers. If history is a judge, the real numbers are in the thousands.
The Battle for Basra, like our president landing on the deck of an aircraft carrier to proclaim Mission Accomplished, opened to a lot of fanfare.  Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki defamed his opposition as criminal lowlife and demanded they lay down their arms.  It was exactly what the occupation ordered to pave the way for a future of war.  President Bush hailed it as yet another critical turning point.  

It was. The resistance locked down the Green Zone in the center of Baghdad.  

After a week of fighting, a humbled Iraqi government sent representatives to Iran to negotiate a ceasefire on any terms with Muqtada al-Sadr.  

Subsequent reports have been scarce and slow to develop.  The truth has been even slower.  We were told the Mahdi Army backed down.  When that report became laughable, we were told Maliki acted precipitously, without proper authorization, consultation and planning.  

The emerging truth is far more ominous.  Maliki’s foreign trained and recruited forces were routed because our commanders believed the Mahdi Army was weak and scattered.  They were routed because they were stung by mass desertion of fighters and officers alike.  They were routed because they were neither willing to kill or die for a government that was propped up by an occupying army.  

The damage from this failed operation is more than critical and largely irreparable.  The Maliki government has lost the confidence of both the people and the occupation.  They must now retreat to the Green Zone where it is no longer safe to hide and begin counting the days before it all comes unraveled.  

The truth is al-Sadr, his army and its political branch, owe much of their power to the people of Iraq while the government has lost whatever claim to legitimacy it once might have had.  

The truth is the armed militias of the indigenous people, Shia and Sunni, stand poised and ready to strike the occupying forces at any time they choose.  

As we lay blame on the Iraqi government for failing to do what we have spectacularly failed to do for five years, the truth is we are running out of both political and military options.  

The only good news is that we might finally have learned what we ought to have learned in Vietnam:  America is not destined to be a brutal and oppressive occupier of nations.  

Perhaps the only thing our president got right (for the wrong reasons of course) is that democracies are not designed for aggressive war.  We have elections every four years and at some point the idea of endless war becomes untenable to the people who must pay the highest cost.  

Throw out all the tortured logic about the conditions that must arise before we can responsibly and honorably withdraw (mostly by the same brain trusts that got us in to this quagmire), the best time to pull out, logistics aside, is now.  

A week after the Battle for Basra (April 4), the San Francisco Chronicle relegated the Iraq War to page sixteen, where a Los Angeles Times reporter informed us that Prime Minister Maliki was threatening further assaults on renegade forces throughout Iraq.  

You don’t need to be a military expert to know that is a flawed strategy.  A few more operations like the Battle for Basra and Maliki will be making his plans in exile.  

Meantime, the followers of Muqtada al-Sadr are scheduling a protest of the American occupation in the holy city of Najaf to mark the fifth anniversary of the fall of Baghdad (April 10).  They expect a million protesters.  

The war is over.  We have lost on every front:  hearts, minds, militarily and politically.  We have tainted the name of democracy and shamed the cause of liberty.  We have spit in the wind of common sense and defiled the sanctity of justice.  

The lesson of the Battle for Basra is: The age of occupation is over.  

The reason our soldiers will not have died in vain is that we the people of America and the world will rise up in unity and clarity to demand:  Never again.  



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