Friday, March 28, 2008

Is the Post-Surge Honeymoon Over?

Renewed Fighting in Basra

"American-trained Iraqi security forces failed for a third straight day to oust Shiite militias from the southern city of Basra on Thursday, even as President Bush hailed the operation as a sign of the growing strength of Iraq’s federal government," reported the New York Times today.

The stated reason that Iraqi security forces are in Basra and other Mahdi Army strongholds in the south is to restore order and peace there. The central Iraqi government cites increased levels of criminal activity and violence, purportedly caused by people splintering from those loyal to the Mahdi army, as having significantly destabilized the region.

It's worth noting that provincial elections are coming up in Iraq and many Iraqi citizens see this move by the central Iraqi government as a means to undermine one of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's most potent political rivals, the head of the Mahdi Army, Muqtada al-Sadr.

The Battle for Basra: A Turning Point

It is important to recognize that this mission in Basra is the Iraqi Armed Forces' first major solo mission. Iraqi soldiers are not backed by US or other Coalition troops.

It seems, however, this precedent of the Iraqi government standing up on its own to face its own foes is becoming mired in its failure to achieve the mission's clearly stated goals as each day passes.

The New York Times underscores the crucial nature of this Iraqi-force-led mission in determining if the reduction from abysmal to excessive violence throughout Iraq this past year will remain much longer. It will likewise dictate if US troops who currently have an average of a 15 month tours of duty in Iraq, get to see any reduction in their elongated stays.

"The violence underscored the fragile nature of the security improvements partly credited to the American troop increase that began last year," the Times reports, "Officials have acknowledged that a cease-fire called by Mr. Sadr last August has contributed to the improvements. Should the cease-fire collapse entirely, those gains could be in serious jeopardy, making it far more difficult to begin bringing substantial numbers of American troops home."

So it seems, the battle for Basra may mark a substantial turning point in the situation for those on the ground in Iraq.

What will it mean?

Is the Post-Surge Honeymoon Over?

With at least 100 dead and 500 wounded after only a few days of somewhat restricted fighting (Madhi Army soldiers are under orders by al-Sadr to fire only in self-defense), is it fair to say that Basra may tip the scale back towards abysmal, rather than excessive levels of bloodshed?

Is this flair up fighting in Basra the cold reality of the post-surge honeymoon ending?

One sign the answer may be yes, comes from the oil pipelines in southern Iraq.

The oil lines in Iraq's southern regions, as in the rest of the country, have become chaos barometers.

That is, when the pipelines in a particular area in Iraq are constantly being shot at, blown up, and rendered non-functional - it is fair to say the area is not stable. Whereas, when oil pipelines in a specific enclave can go weeks or months functioning without issue - it is reasonable to claim such places are controlled.

That said, the New York Times reports, "a major oil pipeline near Basra was struck with a bomb around 10 a.m. on Friday [March 28th], igniting a huge fire, said Sameer al-Magsosi, a spokesman for the Southern Oil Company. Before the recent security gains, the southern pipelines had been frequent targets of insurgents, smugglers and militias, but few strikes had been recorded in the past year."

Another indicator the Iraqi government is losing more influence in the Iraqi south, rather than cementing control as was the aim of their mission, is the rising number of American deaths even in the robustly fortified Green Zone.

The Times reports, "In Baghdad, where explosions shook the city throughout the day, American officials said 11 rockets struck the Green Zone, killing an unidentified American government worker, the second this week."

Moreover, the battling seems not to be limited to the city of Basra, though Iraq's Prime Minister intended for their mission to be staged there only.

According to the Times, attacks also occurred in the cities and towns of "Kut, Hilla, Amara, Kirkuk, Baquba and other cities."

What is Plan B?

At this point one must ask, what does the US and the Iraqi governments plan to do if the relative achievements of "the surge" disintegrate and violence again reins obscene?

The slim mention, let alone response to this question, is troubling. It gives reason for anyone whose fates are intertwined with the welfare of Iraq (the majority of the world) to be ominously concerned.

Militias Resist Iraqi Forces in Fighting for Basra

Watch more on these developments in southern Iraq:

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