As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Monday, March 31, 2008

So What Happened In Iraq?

By Friday, it looked like the Basra offensive spearheaded by Prime Minister Maliki was faltering and that the Sadrist forces would kick them out or convert them to their cause. By Monday, Muqtada al-Sadr makes a pronouncement and there's a truce in place, though fighting still continues. What went on?

According to Leila Feidel at McClatchy, it was a deal brokered by an Iranian general.

The backdrop to Sadr's dramatic statement was a secret trip Friday by Iraqi lawmakers to Qom, Iran's holy city and headquarters for the Iranian clergy who run the country.

There the Iraqi lawmakers held talks with Brig. Gen. Qassem Suleimani, commander of the Qods (Jerusalem) brigades of Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps and signed an agreement with Sadr, which formed the basis of his statement Sunday, members of parliament said.

Ali al Adeeb, a member of Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki's Dawa party, and Hadi al Ameri, the head of the Badr Organization, the military wing of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, had two aims, lawmakers said: to ask Sadr to stand down his militia and to ask Iranian officials to stop supplying weapons to Shiite militants in Iraq.

"The statement issued today by (Muqtada al Sadr) is a result of the meetings," said Jalal al-Din al Saghir, a leading member of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq. "The government didn't have any disagreement with the Sadrists when it went to the city of Basra. The Sadrist movement is the one that chose to face the government."

This looks horrible for Maliki. After invading Basra and the Sadrist-held south and failing, two of his own comrades travel to Iran, where the real power in the region lies, to force a cease-fire. His authority is completely undermined and Sadr comes out as the magnaminous broker of peace. The Basra offensive was a kind of Tet Offensive really, showing that unrest will continue in the absence of a political solution. We now know that the Iraqi army remains hopeless after years upon years of training. Chaos still reigns despite American presence in the region so it's not credible to suggest that Iraq would be REALLY chaotic if we left. And let's not forget that Sadr got quite a bit of concessions out of the Iraqi government, which shows that they lost even more than their dignity in the offensive. As Juan Cole explains:

Muqtada al-Sadr called on his followers to stand down, though I read his statement as permitting continued armed self-defense, as at Basra where the Iraqi Army is attacking them and the US is bombing them. Significantly, he calls on the Mahdi Army to stop attacking the HQs of rival political parties. That language suggests that the parties are suffering from such attacks and are worried that party infrasture is being degraded ahead of the October 1 provincial elections. The southern parties have essentially defied al-Maliki and Bush to make a separate peace.

The entire episode underlines how powerful Iran has become in Iraq. The Iranian government had called on Saturday for the fighting to stop. And by Sunday evening it had negotiated at least a similar call from Sadr (whether the fighting actually stops remains to be seen and depends on local commanders and on whether al-Maliki meets Sadr's conditions).

We obviously have seen that Iran won this war. It's time to get out smartly and negotiate a settlement involving Iran, where there are a lot of similar goals for stability and keeping oil routes open and strong. The cease fire is welcome news, but of course Iraq is so muddled that violence continues even with it in place, and overall it shows how impossible a military strategy that Bush and McCain pose truly is.

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