Hopefully Nouri al-Maliki has a plan B in reserve, because plan A is not working.
Shiite militias in Basra openly controlled wide swaths of the city on Saturday and staged increasingly bold raids on Iraqi government forces sent in five days ago to wrest control from the gunmen, witnesses said, as Iraqi political leaders grew increasingly critical of the stalled assault.
Witnesses in Basra said that members of the most powerful militia in the city, the Mahdi Army, were setting up checkpoints and controlling traffic in many places ringing the central district controlled by some of the 30,000 Iraqi Army and police forces involved in the assault. Fighters were regularly attacking the government forces, then quickly retreating.
After Maliki loses his most economically important oil port and his most reliable armed division, his credibility as a national leader will be next to nil.
As Ezra Klein says, “the Bush administration has eschewed a strategic approach for tactical goals that lead nowhere but are achievable through military force and are popular here at home.” I don’t know how many times I have tried pointing that out to war supporters; I do know that it never sunk in. Maybe this passage will help.
Since the Basra assault began Tuesday, violence has spread to Shiite districts of Baghdad and other places in Iraq where Shiite militiamen hold sway, raising fears that security gains often attributed to a yearlong American troop buildup could be at risk. Any widespread breakdown of a cease-fire called by Moktada al-Sadr, the Shiite cleric who founded the Mahdi Army, could bring the country back to the sectarian violence that strained it in 2006 and 2007.
The troop buildup had tactical goals, which boiled down to reducing violence in Iraq. Indeed the violence went down; never mind that neither of the major causes (Sunni cooperation against al Qaeda and Sadr’s ceasefire) have any proximate connection to our troop buildip. As people like Ezra, myself and thousands of others have pointed out these tactical results amount to a hill of beans without progress on the strategic goals of cementing reconciliation between the armed factions. In reality they amounted to less than a hill of beans, since each party used the lull in combat to rearm and reorganize.
I suppose that we could hold a seminar on the difference between tactical and strategic goals, but maybe it would be easier to stop listening to people who need to see points like this play out before they understand. These same people for the most part also miss fine points like how removing Iran’s major competitor could benefit Iran and the general benefit of postinvasion planning. See for example Yglesias’s recent bit on Krauthammer. At every step since the Iraq invasion was nothing but a neocon wet dream America would have unambiguously benefited by treating these guys as the war-drunk fantasy thinkers that they clearly are. Every time we listen to Bill Kristol or a Kagan on any meaningful topic America loses.