The Captain’s Journal has complained about analysis of the Basra and Sadr City fighting that tends toward the extremes. Effusive analysis and reporting about the recent events is neither productive nor compelling. A recent example of sardonic analysis comes from Dr. iRack at Abu Muqawama (Editorial note: Matthew Yglesias who writes for The Atlantic addresses previous Basra opinion from Dr. iRack, and in the same post, the commenters curse The Captain’s Journal. This brings a smile to our face. Riddle us this. What could be better than to draw the ire of either Yglesias or his boy-fan readers?).
Dr. iRack has detected a new narrative coming out of the Iraqi Government (and MNF-I). The story goes something like this. “Once upon a time, a brave prime minister took on the criminals trying to destroy his kingdom. He sent a ‘charge of the knights’ deep into the rogue principality of Basra to slay the minions of the evil wizard Sadr and save countless damsels in distress. After a shakey start, the knights vanquished their foes. The black-pajama-clad-ninja-JAM-gangster-flying-monkeys flew away, and life returned to the streets. The world turned from black-and-white to technocolor. Damsels felt free to let down their hair and don multi-colored robes, children frolicked and went joyously back to school, long-delayed weddings commenced, popular bards were able to share their mirth-filled tunes, and celebratory gunfire rang throughout the land. And so they all lived happily ever after.”
For an eye-witness account of this transformation which basically tells this story (minus the sarcasm), see this piece in the London Times.
There seem to be many morals to this tale:
1. The limp-wristed British were defeated in Basra, but with a wee-bit of manly American help (advisors, air support), the JAMsters were sent scurrying.
2. The ISF (especially the Iraqi army) is more capable than all those playa-haters like the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction claim, despite all the difficulties during the early phase of the Basra operation and the need to fire 1,300 deserters who refused to fight JAM.
To be fair about our analysis of the British and the recent history of Basra, The Captain’s Journal has never claimed that the British are limp-wristed. We have always claimed that the British warrior is as good as any, but that the Colonels and Generals misled their political leadership and failed their men. The strategy is to blame, not the quality of the British enlisted men. Nor have we made any claims concerning the presence of the U.S. in Basra. However, it is unlikely that Dr. iRack is pointing to our analyses, especially since he links certain articles in his post.
His analysis drips with sarcasm, so much so that it may blind him to certain truths concerning the recent fighting. All of the prose he (and anyone else) is capable of bringing to bear on the issue doesn’t change the facts that the Marines are standing down in Anbar because the campaign is complete, and the campaigns for Basra and Sadr City are just beginning.
In Concrete Walls for Sadr City, we noted that counterinsurgency tactics were finally being brought to Sadr City. We were fooled by appearances, and it now has become clear that the walls are a continuing testimony to the aborted efforts against the Sadrists that have plagued the campaign from the beginning. There are no intentions to continue the operation throughout Sadr City.
American and Iraqi forces building a wall in Sadr City have no plans to besiege the east Baghdad Shiite bastion where they have been battling militiamen for weeks, a US general said on Thursday.
“Our purpose is to secure only the southern part of Sadr City, to prevent rockets being fired towards the Green Zone from the area,” Major General Jeffery Hammond, commander of US forces in Baghdad, told a news conference.
Rather than see things from the extreme end of the spectrum (victory has been achieved within a few short weeks, contra victory cannot possibly be achieved no matter what), moderation and a measured approach is best. The Captain’s Journal has found such an analysis, crafted by Richard S. Lowry writing at OpFor. His analysis will be cited at length.
Last Tuesday evening an Apache helicopter crew noticed three criminals loading a mortar into the trunk of their car in Sadr City. After insuring there were no civilians nearby, the American soldiers fired a Hellfire missile which obliterated the front end of the vehicle. The criminals rushed to the mangled auto and grabbed the mortar, tossed it into a second vehicle and sped away.
Events like these have become commonplace as neither American nor Iraqi Security Forces have been patrolling the streets of Sadr City. Even though Muqtada al Sadr has declared a cease-fire, the Sadr City District has been a very dangerous place for Coalition forces. The lower-class neighborhoods of eastern Baghdad (Sadr City) continue to remain an Al Sadr stronghold. So much so, that the area has been cordoned and Iraqi and Coalition forces do not venture into the majority of the eastern Baghdad slums. The area is laced with IEDs and armed criminal elements that will stand and fight, if confronted. So, the majority of the Coalition’s security is facing inward and the city streets are patrolled from the sky. Contrary to some reports, Sadr City is not under siege. There are control points to stem the influx of illegal weapons, but people are free to come and go as they please.
Rest assured, Sadr City is under constant surveillance. High above the attacking Apache, an Unmanned Arial Vehicle (UAV) circled the district. Air Force controllers watched the Apache attack and the enemy speed away in their streaming video broadcast from the drone. They stalked the vehicle as it sped through the streets like a hawk circling its prey. When the thugs finally stopped in an empty field, another Hellfire screamed out of the evening sky. This time both criminals were killed and the vehicle and mortar were destroyed.
There may not be a cop on every corner in Sadr City, but the ISF and American Forces can see what is going on and they can swiftly react to acts of aggression. For some time now, there has been a tense stalemate in Sadr City. Al Sadr’s radical followers continue to conduct violent acts in the form of mortar and rocket attacks, IED attacks on Coalition and Iraqi Security forces, and outright skirmishes with the authorities. More often than not, the fighters are rounded up or killed, but they continue to harass the establishment.
All the while, the vast majority of the civilian population is trying to live a peaceful life amid this small groups’ struggle for power and influence. Security is slowly returning to the other districts of Baghdad and as the streets become safer, overall life is improving for the every-day Iraqi. The streets are being cleaned up, markets, parks and schools are open and there is a glimmer of hope for the future. Bread winners are returning to work and children are returning to school.
But Muqtada and his followers do not want the people of Sadr City to gain hope for their future. Their power comes from the downtrodden, from the poor, from the disadvantaged. They want to have continued chaos in Sadr City, Baghdad and Iraq. Stability is their enemy. So, Sadr’s supporters roam the streets in armed gangs, lob mortar rounds at American facilities, plant IEDs and rocket the International Zone. Recently, after British troops withdrew from the streets of Basra, Sadrist thugs took over Iraq’s second largest city.
Last month, the Iraqi government moved to restore law and order in Basra. Until then, Muqtada al Sadr and his radical followers enjoyed a shaky stalemate with the Coalition forces and the government in Baghdad. Al Sadr, who has been hiding in Iran, has issued a fatwa declaring a cease-fire with the Multi-National Forces in Iraq. He has been literally sitting on the sidelines, waiting for American forces to go home. But, his Mahdi army has seized every opportunity to make trouble. Some – many – of Muqtada Al Sadr’s followers have violated the cease-fire and have quickly been killed or captured.
When the ISF moved to retake Basra, Sadrist thugs throughout the country counterattacked from Basra to Nasiriyah to Sadr City. Last week, Iranian-made 107mm rockets were hurled across the Tigris River into the International Zone from the most southern reaches of Sadr City. Iraqi Security Forces quickly moved into that area with coalition support. They have built a temporary barrier that separates the southern edge of the district from the rest of Sadr City. The rocket teams that have not been killed have been forced out of effective range to be able to hit the International Zone. While the ISF are in the lead, there is a considerable Coalition force supporting the Iraqis, particularly in the air.
With support of the Coalition, Iraqi Security Forces have had great success in neutralizing, killing and destroying the mortar and rocket teams who were firing from within Sadr City. “We have taken out literally dozens of those teams” Rear Admiral Greg Smith, Director of Communications for the Multi-National Force – Iraq, added that some of these criminals were, “in the process of setting up to fire.” These criminals were lobbing rockets across the Tigris River, attempting to hit government and Coalition targets in the International Zone. Most of the rockets fell short, killing and injuring innocent Iraqi civilians.
The burned out vehicles we are seeing in the streets on the nightly news belong to rocket and mortar teams, victims of precision weapons launched from Unmanned Arial Vehicles (UAVs) or Apache helicopters. The enemy cannot escape the watchful eyes of coalition forces. “What you have is a very persistent coverage from the air by US forces.” Smith went on to say, “We spot ‘em, we track ‘em and we kill ‘em.”
Still, the levels of violence today are higher than they were before Easter Sunday. There was a serious peak of violence after the Iraqi government moved to take back the streets of Basra. The number of incidents has recently decreased, but is still elevated in nearly every category.
What is Next?
The next few weeks will be crucial to bringing the citizens of Sadr City into the fold. Today, Muqtada al Sadr has a significant following within the slums of the city named after his martyred father. But, his influence is waning. Extremists want him dead and moderates are considering reconciliation. The Iraq government will be pumping $150,000,000 into the southern extremities of Sadr City. The money will be used to revitalize the areas that are under government control. If the moderates see that the government is making an effort to help the people of Sadr City, they may be inclined to denounce the violent elements that control their neighborhoods.
Even then, the future of the citizens of Eastern Baghdad, and most of southern Iraq, rests in the hands of Muqtada al Sadr and the violent factions within his following. If the government of Iraq can provide some political accommodations to the Sadrists, if Al Sadr can be convinced that he can maintain his power base peacefully, if the extreme shi’a can reconcile with the moderate shi’a, there might be a chance of a peaceful outcome in Sadr City.
Let us all hope that sane minds prevail because if they don’t, a military operation will be needed to clear Sadr City, ala Najaf, Fallujah and Basra. Muqtada Al Sadr needs to realize that we can do this the easy way or the hard way, but the Coalition and Iraqi Security Forces will not be deterred from bringing peace and stability to all the people of Iraq, including those in Sadr City.
This is careful reporting, and readers should make OpFor a daily stop. The Basra campaign was aborted. More needs to be done. Sadr City is just beginning. The Sadrists are the most prolific provider of welfare funds in Iraq. Their power springs from the impoverished, and they won’t slink away into the night without a fight. The SIIC needs to be forced to demonstrate their loyalties. The best way to do this is to place them at the point in targeting Iranian elements within Iraq. They, more than any other group, would be in a position to identify Quds operators, IRG fighters, Iranian weapons caches, Iranian training camps for insurgents, and Iranian smuggling lines and monies. If they will not do this, then their loyalties are proven to be with Iran rather than Iraq. They cannot be considered a legitimate part of the Iraqi government.
The campaign involving the Sadrists and SIIC – it isn’t lost, and it hasn’t been won. The campaign to bring Iraqi law and order to their encampments is just beginning. As we have said about every engagement, patience and force projection are the two most critical elements to success.