[Reuters] Residents riding a motorcycle look at a burnt Iraqi armoured vehicle [an American-made HUMVEE] that was destroyed during clashes in Basra, 550 km (340 miles) south of Baghdad, April 2, 2008. Mehdi army fighters burned an Iraqi armoured vehicle during fresh clashes in Basra on Wednesday, a fighter from the Mehdi army said.
The pathetic showing by the Iraqi Army in Basra has drawn a stark and sobering portrait of the security situation in Iraq. If the United States is really and truly not going to stand down until the Iraqi Army can stand up, we might just as well start teaching Arabic too our preschoolers now because children not yet born will be fighting this god-forsaken, unholy clusterfuck.
President Bush last week declared the offensive, which ended Sunday, "a defining moment" in Iraq's history.It remains unclear what the American commanders in Iraq knew about the operation and when they knew it - what is known is that once again, the zeal and confident proclamations of Iraqi commanders boasting about the abilities of the troops in their command were not matched by reality once they came under fire.
That may prove to be true, but in recent days senior U.S. officials have backed away from the operation, which ended with Shiite militias still in place in Basra, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki possibly weakened and a de facto cease-fire brokered by an Iranian general.
"There is no empirical evidence that the Iraqi forces can stand up" on their own, a senior U.S. military official in Washington said, reflecting the frustration of some at the Pentagon. He and other military officials requested anonymity because they weren't authorized to speak for the record.
Having Iraqi forces take a leadership role in combating militias and Islamic extremists was crucial to U.S. hopes of withdrawing more American forces in Iraq and reducing the severe strains the Iraq war has put on the Army and Marine Corps.
The failure of Iraqi forces to defeat rogue fighters in Basra has some in the military fearing they can no longer predict when it might be possible to reduce the number of troops to pre-surge levels.
"It's more complicated now," said one officer in Iraq whose role has been critical to American planning there.
Today it was revealed that British forces were involved far deeply in aiding the Iraqi army during the fighting in Basra than was previously reported. Indeed, British defense secretary Des Brown told the House of Commons on Tuesday that the use of British ground troops entry into the fighting was ordered “in extremis,” which means that the deployment of forces from the British base at Basra was a last-ditch measure to save Iraqi troops from being routed. Browne told the House of commons that the Iraqi forces displayed "fragility" under fire (what a euphemism!) He also announced that Britain was halting their drawdown of forces in the wake of the sorry showing by Iraqi forces.
So let's recap: Not only can the Iraqi forces not stand up, the Iraqi government showed itself for weak and ineffectual, we can't afford to keep propping them up, and if, nay when we leave, we most likely leave a failed state in our wake, and for that we are likely to be viewed by other states as a pariah nation for the foreseeable future.
If you look at what Juan Cole has found in the Arabic language media, you find a rather sobering and devastating account of what happened. The civil war in Iraq is getting worse and the government of Nuri al-Maliki is getting more and more corrupt by the day:
Al-Zaman reports in Arabic that Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki on Tuesday honored the militias of the parties in the United Iraqi Alliance, i.e. the Da'wa (Islamic Call) Party and the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq. They were singled out for having fought alongside government security forces, and some 10,000 of them were inducted into the latter.
Al-Zaman points to a double standard, insofar as the government has not similarly honored, or accepted into the state apparatus, most members of the Sunni Awakening Council militias that have been fighting the Qutbist Jihadis.
The induction of Badr Corps fighters (the paramilitary of ISCI) and those of the Da'wa Party into security positions came in the wake of the firing of thousands of officers and troops who had refused to obey orders to fire on the Mahdi Army militiamen in Baghdad and the southern provinces. They were accused of mutiny.
If al-Zaman's reporting is correct, the scale of the mutiny is breathtaking, and helps explain why government troops did so poorly against the Sadrists-- the hearts of the thousands of them were simply not with the fight.
Full scale mutiny, British troops sent in to keep them from collapsing, and armed thugs who fought on the side of the government are now "inducted" in as security forces. The very notion that the legitimization of the Badr Corps has now been accomplished should be of paramount concern to people who pay attention to these things:
Under the tutelage of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), SCIRI established a military wing in 1983, called the Badr Brigade. This force quickly grew into a full-fledged corps and joined regular IRGC forces on the front lines during the Iran-Iraq war. The relationship with the IRCG has persisted and deepened over the past two decades. The main Badr Corps training center, located just west of the Vahdati air force base in Dezful, and most of its other facilities in Western Iran and Tehran are IRGC property. The Badr Corps is believed to have between 10,000-15,000 fighters, though only around 3,000 are professionally trained (many of these being Iraqi army defectors and former POWs).
Will General Petraeus answer any of these questions? I hope to God no one runs an ad in the New York Times before he gets back from Iraq. Wouldn't want to distract anyone from what's really going on...
UPDATE I - PALE RIDER
Of course, you can't explain basic COIN to the wingnuts. Here's what Austin Bay has to say:
After his outlaw militiamen raised white flags and skedaddled from their latest round of combat with the Iraqi Army, radical Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr declared victory.
He always does. He understands media bravado. He wagers that survival bandaged by bombast and swathed in sensational headlines is a short-term triumph. Survive long enough, and Sadr bets he will prevail.
This time, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki issued a contrarian press release, however, calling the Iraqi Army's anti-militia operations in southern Iraq a "success."
A dispute over casualties in the firefights has ensued, as it always does. An Iraqi Interior Ministry spokesman alleged that Sadr's militia had been hit hard in six days of fighting, suffering 215 dead, 155 arrested and approximately 600 wounded. The government spokesman gave no casualty figures for Iraqi security forces.
Let's see--we have a "body count" because that's how wingnuts think you win against popular insurgencies. They haven't learned the lesson of Vietnam--body counts don't matter. Support from the indigenous population matters. Thousands of Iraqi government troops mutinied, abandoned their equipment, then had to be bailed out by the Brits and had to call in air strikes from the US (another failed method of fighting insurgents that reveals just how badly we're doing in Iraq), ultimately leaving the Mahdi Army intact--and that means that al-Maliki won?
It's incredible to contemplate how ignorant these people truly are.
Nouri al-Maliki, Iraq’s increasingly isolated Prime Minister, claimed yesterday his campaign to stamp out illegal armed groups in Basra had been a “success” despite being forced to sue for peace with al-Mahdi Army militia who fought his men to a standstill.
The Prime Minister, whose future is looking uncertain after he staked his reputation on the stalled military offensive, also asked gunmen to return the 50 government cars and armoured vehicles they captured from his forces during a week of fighting that left close to 500 people dead.
Rarely does the victor have to "beg" for his vehicles to be returned from the people that he "defeated."