(CBS/AP) U.S. warplanes bombed sites in the southern Iraqi city of Basra overnight, targeting Shiite militia members, a British military spokesman said Friday.
The aerial bombardment is a sign of the difficulty Iraqi forces have had clearing the crucial oil city of armed militias that, until less than a week ago, ran Basra unchecked - most notably by radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army.
Maj. Tom Holloway, the spokesman based at the British military installation at Basra's airport, said Friday that coalition aircraft had bombed sites twice overnight, "due to engagements on the ground."
Also, U.S. forces seemed to be taking the lead in the fight in eastern Baghdad's Shiite stronghold of Sadr City, reports the Washington Post. The newspaper reports that U.S. armored vehicles battled Mahdi Army fighters Thursday and that Iraqi army and police appeared to stay mostly to the outskirts of the area.
It was the first time coalition forces became directly involved in the vicious clashes in Basra that started when thousands of Iraqi troops poured into the town on the orders of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Coalition jets have been patrolling the skies for three days over Basra, but had not fired any weapons.
The Iraqi forces' mission was to wrest control of the city - which is strategically crucial because of its location near the Iranian border and financially vital since 80 percent of Iraq's oil reserves are located in the area and processed through Basra's pipelines.
Those are US assets pulled out of the fight elsewhere to bail out the Iraqis, who are outgunned and outmatched by the Mahdi Army. Is Basra the next Fallujah? Do we have to destroy the city in order to save it?
More importantly, when are people going to realize that a certain US Vice President's trip to the region is what started all of this? He either gave the go ahead or told al-Maliki to clean up Basra so that they could keep Sadr and his followers from gaining more seats in the Iraqi parliament in the next round of elections.
Muhannad Fala'ah / Getty Images
BAGHDAD, IRAQ - MARCH 27: Smoke rises after a mortar attack as U.S helicopters fly on March 27, 2008 at the Green Zone area in Baghdad, Iraq. The Green Zone was also attacked by insurgents on Sunday March 23 after which the most senior US general in Iraq announced he had evidence that Tehran had trained, funded and equipped the insurgents who had initiated the attack. There has so far been no response from Iran to these accusations.
Go here to see Fred Kagan put his foot in his considerably large mouth. Kagan says that we have to agree that the Iraq Civil War is now over and that we have to see things his way before we can have a polite and reasoned conversation about the war. Kagan's "basis of reality" starts and ends with his delusions about a war he has proven time and again that he knows nothing about. "To do a Kagan" should be in the lexicon when someone is caught lying about a subject in which they claim to have broad expertise. As in your mechanic telling you it's a bad muffler when your transmission falls out of your car and hits the floor.
Anyone who pays him, hires him, or asks him for his opinion might as well consult their horoscope and go see a palm reader to get the same kind of wisdom.
Fuck off, Kagan. Your mouth writes checks your bloated ass can't cash when it comes to opining about this war.
UPDATE I - PALE RIDER
Phillip Carter makes this excellent observation at Intel Dump on recent affairs:
Oh yeah, and another thing. Every time you think of the "adviser model" for Iraq, you should think of this operation in Basra. Because this is the end result of the U.S. advisory effort to date -- which has focused on creating well-trained and equipped units at the tactical level, but has basically failed at the national, strategic level. The leaders of the Iraqi security forces at the ministry level are as bad as they ever were. And the national government is about as bad. Training and advising Iraqi units at the brigade level and below is well and good. But if you fail to properly shape the national command structure, you're handing those units over to leaders who will misuse them.
Mr. Carter is another one of those people who explains this stuff better than I ever could.
UPDATE II - PALE RIDER
Colonel Patrick Lang is also one of those people who can be looked to for wisdom on these matters. I mean, who are you going to go to for information? Colonel Lang? Or Uncle Jimbo? Please.
When Joe Lieberman corrected McCain's "senior moment" in Jordan, he had McCain say that the Iranians were training "extremists," not "alkaydah" (sic). The two of them and Graham had just come from Iraq, so I guess Joe had gotten the word there that the baddies (Jeish al-mahdi) were going to be referred to as "extremists." McCain just couldn't keep it straight. Hmmm. The enemy is who? Say it again...
It is clear that US policy is to back Maliki/Dawa/ISCI/Badr Corps (Iraqi Forces) against Moqtada al-Sadr and his "army" of "shirtless ones." Fine. Why not? I guess the US has no choice but to back someone.
I suppose that the powers that be will shift the Main Supply Route (MSR) to the west (Nasiriyah) if the Basra area becomes too obstructed.
My problem with the present course of events is the ruthlessness of the propaganda campaign being successfully waged by the Bush Administration. The president has succeeded in "framing" the discussion in such a way that Maliki and his assembly of Badr Corps militias are represented as being the equivalent of George Washington suppressing the Whiskey Rebellion. The noble Maliki is portrayed as motivated by a selfless desire for "national" unity. The MSM has re-transmitted that idea without serious question.
In fact he is merely acting on behalf of an emerging alignment of pro-Iranian forces in Iraq that have successfully pulled the wool over American eyes.
You may have noticed that no Kurdish units of the "Iraqi Forces" have been brought down from the north for this "fandango." You may also have noticed that our Concerned Local Citizens/Sons of Iraq (read Sunni tribal Arab auxiliaries) are not involved. Show me some engaged units in this that are not Shia.
They don't seem to fight so well, these "Iraqi Forces " at Basra. We have spent a lot of time and money on these people. They are not making much progress at Basra. I used to know Montagnard Special Commando Unit troops who fought better than this, but, then, they were well led by some wonderful Special Forces sergeants and junior officers.
This is the best I can do for rounding up various opinions to explain what's going on. It would appear that Iraq has begun to enter a new phase, one that will culminate in the collapse or removal of al-Maliki and much of his form of "Federalism."