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Wednesday, March 26, 2008


the reassertion of the mahdi army

with financial markets being what they've been, i've not blogged about iraq in a long time.

when the surge was first being enacted and testified to by general david petraeus before congress, i said this:

that petraeus would fabricate most anything he needed to make the administration case for perpetuating the imperial occupation and (they hope) slow pacification of iraq and its vital energy resources -- all the more valuable in the advancing age of peak oil -- is hardly a revolutionary concept, the undue reverence of jingoistic and economically illiterate americans notwithstanding. moreover, he is certainly in a position to make uncontested and unverifiable statements about conditions on the ground in iraq. it should be well understood that the administration has purged military leadership repeatedly to get the yes-men they want in place, with names like shinseki and abizaid finding even slight dissent impolitic and career-ending. petraeus was never in any danger of being candid before congress; at best, he might rise to the level of 'plausible'.

and when iraq started to fall off the national radar screen -- in part because of growing financial pressures here at home -- i suggested

iraq is and will remain a cauldron of regional if not global disaster for many years, and american forces will remain overwhelmed with their task there.

beginning this week, we may see my assertions -- and those of many spartanist pundits, not to mention the capacity of the armed forces of the united states in iraq -- tested. for the placidity of the mahdi army, the devout and militant shia faction led by moktada al-sadr, first declared last august in conjunction with the surge and extended just last month, now looks to be over. civil disobedience is now the rule.

al-sadr went to war in april 2004, stepping into this portrait of a thankful but frustrated iraq, one which had already seen abu ghraib and the stunning and awful incompetency of the bush administration come to light, to give voice to the discontents of many mainstream iraqi shia. following the pivotal and tragic bombing of the golden mosque of samarra, the mahdi became the primary threat to american forces in iraq as well as the sunni population, as well as the de facto enforcers of the rule of law in many shia communities. many people in the united states want to believe, i'm sure, that he was somehow defeated by american force of arms, but that seems to bear little or no relation to reality.

observing the terrible statistics, one can draw one's own conclusion -- i won't pretend to posess special knowledge, but neither do i think one needs much to see what is going on. what most republicans desperately wish to see as the success of the bush administration's 2007 escalation in iraq is more likely the product of al-sadr's period of rest. the same pattern is evident in iraqi civilian deaths and iraqi police force deaths -- no material reduction during the surge buildup and peak levels, but a drastic reduction upon al-sadr's initiation of a truce. if this week marks the end of that truce, i would guess the "success of the surge" is also at an end.

the administration has not ceased to beat the drum for war with iran, and will almost certainly use aggressive action on the part of al-sadr to accuse iran of perpetrating hostilities regardless of any evidence of lack thereof.

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i think that any honest appraisal of the 'success' of the surge has to also include the role of u.s. forces in the rapidy and effectiveness of the ethnic cleansing of neighborhoods (as reported by folks in iraq such as patrick cockburn). and, although they also contributed to the lower death rates from september to january, they have a more long-term effect (and problem): the disentigration of baghdad into walled, armed enclaves. it doesn't take much to envision how baghdad might go the way of beirut from about 1975-1990; 15 years of street-by-street sectarian warfare this time with u.s. soldiers in the crossfire...

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