( – promoted by buhdydharma )
This is a second diary (first here) in my attempt to understand the most farcical aspect of the current battle in Basra: Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki’s vow that he will personally stay in Basra until order is restored, and the Sadrists surrender their weapons. Maliki originally laid down a 3-day deadline for the surrender of weapons — and then extended it to 10 days when the first deadline fell flat. And he is still — rather hilariously — in Basra.
One of the reasons Maliki made his strange vow was, apparently, because earlier in the week Sadr asked Maliki to leave Basra as a way to reduce tensions. It appears Maliki is taking lessons from Bush: the single best way to get Bush to do something is to tell him that doing the opposite would “reduce tensions.”
Let’s go back to the March 27 Telegraph:
Mr Maliki gave followers of Sadr and other Shi’ite gunmen 72 hours to surrender their weapons and renounce violence or bear the brunt of a military crackdown.
“We are not going to chase those who hand over their weapons within 72 hours,” said Mr Maliki. “If they do not surrender their arms, the law will follow its course.”
A spokesman for Sadr said his movement had appealed to Mr Maliki to reduce tensions in the city by returning to Baghdad and sending a parliamentary delegation to seek an end to fighting.
Liwa Sumaysim, a spokesman for Sadr said: “Sadr has asked prime minister Maliki to leave Basra and to send a parliamentary delegation to resolve the crisis in the city.”
So of course Maliki decides that his response should be to call Basra a “decisive and final battle” and to assert that he will not goddamn leave.
Maliki again promised not to leave Basra until he completed the job, and reiterated his demand that armed militia members turn over their weapons to the state, withdraw and sign a vow to never violate the law again.
Unfortunately for Maliki, it appears that this isn’t going to work.
After failing to break the resistance of Shiite militias in the five-day siege of oil rich Basra, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki sent a top general to hold talks with his Shiite rival, Muqtada al Sadr, Saturday night only to be rebuffed by the firebrand cleric, an Iraqi official close to the negotiations said.
Maliki denounced Shia militants in Basra as the equivalent of Al Qaida, and Sadr told his supporters not to hand over their arms to a puppet state of the United States.
The diplomatic initiative and the harsh rebuff further eroded expectations for a successful outcome to the offensive, which Maliki is personally directing from the presidential palace in the southern port city. It was not the only sign of problems.
Patrick Cockburn, writing in the Independent, says that Maliki controls less than a quarter of Basra after 5 days of fighting. Cockburn adds:
Mr Maliki’s confident prediction that he would crush the Mehdi Army is turning out to be a dangerous gamble that is fast eroding his authority. It is damaging to President Bush, who had claimed the US “surge” had brought about a turning point in America’s five-year-old war to pacify Iraq. Mr Bush had praised the offensive as showing that the Iraqi security forces, trained and supported by the US, could at last stand and fight on their own. So far, the gun battles in Baghdad and the Shia south of Iraq are providing evidence that exactly the opposite is true.
Additionally, Cockburn, like Juan Cole previously, speculates that Maliki’s bizzare and unnecessary ultimatumism is due to orders from Cheney. Cockburn:
The timing of this week’s attack may also be explained by the decision this month, at the prompting of US Vice-President Dick Cheney, on a visit to Baghdad, to hold provincial elections. The US aim was to allow the Sunnis, who boycotted the last polls in January 2005, to win control of their provinces. But elections also threatened the SIIC’s grip on councils in southern Iraq because the party has become increasingly unpopular and the Sadrists were expected to win at the polls.
The upshot of this pissing match is that Maliki is in trouble, and knows it. Associated Press:
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki acknowledged that he might have miscalculated by failing to foresee the strong backlash that his offensive, which began Tuesday, provoked in areas of Baghdad and other cities where Shiite militias wield power.
What can I say? Another successful surge from a Bush man.