Thursday, March 27, 2008

Crisis unfolds in Iraq

I'm afraid that the people of Baghdad and Iraq's south, especially Basra, are in for a horrible time. Muqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi army is rising to fend off the forces of the Iraq army (many of whom are also members of the rival ISCI militia - the Badr army - of al-Hakim) and the US forces supporting them. At least 100 people have died, and the fighting seems far from over. Meanwhile, Mr. Bush is reverting to his prep-school-cheerleader persona, touting the courage and leadership of Iraqi prime minister Maliki as well as the effectiveness of the "Surge" - which, he says, is a big part of the reason for the current "progress" (as if the poor Shia - and by that I mean impoverished as well as unfortunate Shia - are seeing the destruction of Basra as "progress").

Actually, Bush may be scared to death, deep down, because a lot is riding on the success of the Iraqi army in this battle and on the outcome of this conflict. The Iraqi army seem committed to eliminating the Mahdi army as a military threat, and unless Muqtada al-Sadr orders the Mahdi army to stand down (and it may be too late for that, nor may he even be able to get them to stand down if he so orders), the damage to Basra and Baghdad (where lies Sadr City, the teeming Shiite slum that is Muqtada's home-base) is going to be much more severe that it already is. Many more civilians are going to die. If the Iraqi forces are unable to have their way (and early reports had significant numbers of them running away), will Bush feel compelled to have Petraeus send in US troops in Sadr City to eliminate the Mahdi forces? Will the British be compelled (they're already being pressured by General Keane) to send troops back into Basra - or might Bush feel compelled to send US forces south? Bush is likely telling himself - and his commanders - that the Mahdi army cannot be allowed to win, because if it does, the Surge will have proven to be bogus, the "progress" that the Republicans have been touting will be proven likewise bogus, and McCain's chances will be toast.

And remember - the Iranians are deeply entangled in what's happening in Baghdad and Iraq's south. It would take very little for the US to point the "provocateur" finger at Iran as this mess heats up. If Cheney wants to push Bush into a military strike against the mullahs (and Bush may not need much pushing, and the Israelis will look on approvingly), this could be his chance.

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