About Iraq, Fester asks what I’ve been thinking about all day.
During the Second Battle of Fallujah, the US attacking forces were composed of a composite division as six battalions led the main attack, another battalion as a diversion force, and two battalions as local reserves. Additionally an Iraqi Army brigade was present as a mop-up/press release force. The defending forces would have been the equivlant of two or three battalions of light infantry and local insurgents/neighborhood militias. Fallujah was a city of roughly 300,00 residents before the assault. And this assualt was supported by theatre level artillery and air support. And despite this large armored and heavy infantry force with excellent air support, plenty of helicopter mobility and firepower, superior logistics, the defending force was able to inflict heavy absolute and proportional casualties — roughly 10% of the US force was wounded or killed, and many infantry companies saw 30% to 50% casualty levels.
The Iraqi Army force in Basra is a single division of lightly supported infantry with some US/UK locally controlled air support, minimal artillery, minimal aviation support. Basra is a city of 2.6 million people (2003) and it is overwhelmingly Shi’ite. If one assumes that one half of one percent of the male population are available to be called up for Mahdi Army fighting units, the defenders have numerical parity with the attacking force. That is never a good thing, especially when the defenders are on their own grounds, fighting from prepared positions in dense urban networks and have higher morale and more firepower than the attackers.
So again — why was this attacked launched with what looks to be massively insuffucient force levels on the part of the Iraqi Army? Was it pure staff stupidity/buying into your own propaganda that the JAM is a bunch of thugs with no popular support? Was it that the 14th Division was the only reliable division? Was it a hope that the introduction of a large force would destablize the local equilibriums of power and thus prompt local Badr and Fadillah militia attacks?
Indeed, the organized Iraqi army has proved absolutely terrible at acting on its own. Meanwhile insurgents have adapted to inflicting casualties on our much, much better-prepared forces without losing an unacceptable number of their own people. The idea that the Iraqi army can roll in and crush Sadrist militias American-style, without the omnipotent intelligence that served Saddam’s forces, is laugh out loud silly.
Taking on the Sadrists is a brave move for Maliki’s government, and maybe a necessary one, but the field isn’t tilted in their favor. Sadr has more motivated fighters, home-field advantage, more men and better weapons. If the Maliki government utterly fails to decisively pacify Sadrist territory then it’s hard to see how they can hang onto the credibility to go on governing. The glaring question, of course, is what happens after that.
Believe it or not, the after-Maliki scenario may not be as painful as some think. Tbree reasons that come to mind:
* Before stepping away from government in protest Sadr built a halfway-credible coalition of nationalist legislators from both Shiite and Sunni constituencies. That’s good for reconciliation but bad for neocons; one point on which all of the parties agreed was that America needs to leave Iraq.
* Despite what some believe, Sadr is not an Iranian puppet, in fact the reverse appears to be true. Since early in the invasion Sadrists worked harder than any other Shiite party to fight Iranian intervention (and there was plenty). The Sadrists’ red team, the guys who basically danced to a tune played in Tehran, wais the same SCIRI/ISCI who we prop up as Iraq’s current government. I think that war with Iran is a miserable idea for any number of reasons but that doesn’t mean that I hope for Iraq to be an Iranian client either. Swapping Maliki for anyone would be a step in the right direction as far as that is concerned, even if the alternative is Sadr. Hating us hardly excludes him from hating meddling foreigners in general.
* Sunni-Shiite ethnic cleansing in Iraq is largely done, and the neighborhoods won’t be re-mixed any time soon. The next major schism once the Shiite parties have worked out their differences will be Kurdish autonomy in general and Kirkuk in particular. There will be blood regardless of who controls the government in Baghdad, but the argument could be made that Maliki, holed up and isolated in the Green Zone, discredited by US patronage, without popular support or the loyalty of forces who mostly serve their sectarian roots, is the worst possible choice.
Then again, maybe I’m wrong and the Sadrists will give up, like they did when it was the much more impressive American army coming after them.