Thursday, March 27, 2008

Terminator X Packs a JAM

From the Department of Wrong Horses Backed:

Iraq’s Prime Minister was staring into the abyss today after his operation to crush militia strongholds in Basra stalled, members of his own security forces defected and district after district of his own capital fell to Shia militia gunmen.

With the threat of a civil war looming in the south, Nouri al-Maliki’s police chief in Basra narrowly escaped assassination in the crucial port city, while in Baghdad, the spokesman for the Iraqi side of the US military surge was kidnapped by gunmen and his house burnt to the ground.

Saboteurs also blew up one of Iraq's two main oil pipelines from Basra, cutting at least a third of the exports from the city which provides 80 per cent of government revenue, a clear sign that the militias — who siphon significant sums off the oil smuggling trade — would not stop at mere insurrection.

The most secure area of the capital, Karrada, was placed under curfew amid fears the Mahdi Army of Hojetoleslam Moqtada al-Sadr could launch an assault on the residence of Abdelaziz al-Hakim, the head of a powerful rival Shia governing party [ed note: that would be ISCI].

While the Mahdi Army has not officially renounced its six-month ceasefire, which has been a key component in the recent security gains, on the ground its fighters were chasing police and soldiers from their positions across Baghdad.

Rockets from Sadr City slammed into the governmental Green Zone compound in the city centre, killing one person and wounding several more. [...]

In Baghdad, the Mahdi Army took over neighbourhood after neighbourhood, some amid heavy fighting, others without firing a shot.

In New Baghdad, militiamen simply ordered the police to leave their checkpoints: the officers complied en masse and the guerrillas stepped out of the shadows to take over their checkpoints. [...]

One witness saw Iraqi Shia policemen rip off their uniform shirts and run for shelter with local Sunni neighbourhood patrols, most of them made up of former insurgents wooed by the US military into fighting al-Qaeda.

Badger has more on the situation in Basra:

The problem facing the government in its battle for control of Basra, which it has said will be "decisive", is that a large number of people in the army and the police are not carrying out orders to fight. Instead they are planning to return home, given their lack of desire to get into this fight.

Several notables in the governate have told AlQabas that the government forces, having entered into what amounts to street-fighting for Basra neighborhoods, will lose this fight unless these local forces are reinforced by large additional forces from elsewhere, because their opponents in the Mahdi Army and other organizations have appropriate weapons in sufficient quantity, and have experience in urban fighting. The lack of fighting spirit on the government side is owing to a lot of causes, among them the existence of tribal links between the army and police on the one side, and the armed militias on the other.

Also, the provincial council and the governor have come to an almost unified position of opposition to this [central government] operation, because they feel that the Prime Minister infringed on their jurisdiction as an elected local council. [In particular] they think the Prime Minister's meeting with the heads of the army and the police in the governate, without involving them, was a derogation of their status and an infringement on their legal authority.

The power of motivation should not be underestimated. It's a force multiplier. Speaking of picking which horse to back, Reidar Visser takes note of the direction of the wind:

After a long silence on the Basra operations, the parliamentary bloc of the Fadila party has within the past hours released a statement criticising the impact on civilian life in Basra and asking for an end to the operations “as soon as possible”. This is not quite as hostile as the reactions by the Sadrists, but it underscores internal Shiite divisions regarding control of Basra and shows how little room for manoeuvre Nuri al-Maliki really has.

The caveat, and it's a sizable one, is that these reports are preliminary, the information is thus not reliable in its entirey and much can change in a short period of time. Still, it's starting to look like Nouri and the boys bit off a bit more than they could chew.

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