Archive for the 'Badr Organization' Category

The Tangled Web of Allegiances

BY Herschel Smith
16 years, 2 months ago

The Captain stumbled across an analysis today that precisely mirrors his own concern, entitled US/Iraq: Tangled Web of Allegiances Leads Back to Tehran.

If politics makes strange bedfellows, then the relationship between Iran, the United States and the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq is the strangest ménage à trois in international relations today.

Violent Shia-on-Shia hostilities officially came to an end this week when a formal ceasefire was declared between government forces of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and radical Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army, but sporadic fighting still continues. And questions remain about the role that the U.S. is playing.

In testimony before Congress a month ago, Gen. David Petraeus, the commander of U.S. troops in Iraq, and the U.S. ambassador Ryan Crocker characterised the conflict in Iraq as a “proxy war” to stem Iranian influence.

Declarations by both the U.S. and al-Maliki’s government about Iranian sponsorship of Sadrist activities are often used to paint Iran as a destabilising force in Iraq — the meddling neighbour encouraging unrest to boost its own influence. U.S.-backed Iraqi government excursions against Sadr are defended by citing unsubstantiated evidence of Iranian agents’ influence.

But this perspective has yet to be explained in terms of one of Iran’s closest allies in Iraq, the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI), who, as part of al-Maliki’s ruling coalition, also happen to be one of the U.S.’s closest partners.

The U.S. military says that it killed three militants in Baghdad’s Shia Sadr City slum on Sunday, alleging that the targets were splinter groups of the Mahdi Army who had spun out of Sadr’s control and were receiving training and weapons from Iran.

Last week, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said it was clear that Tehran was supporting “militias that are operating outside the rule of law in Iraq”. Many fear that the rhetoric is part of an effort to ratchet up tensions between the U.S. and Iran.

But the constant barrage of criticism lobbed at Iran and the so-called “special groups” of Sadrists still fighting against the government and U.S. forces tends to overlook the fact that the coalition of parties ruling Iraq are largely indebted to Iran for their very existence and continue to be closely connected with the Islamic Republic.

There seems to be no solid explanation about the double standard of U.S. denunciation of Iranian influence and U.S. support and aid to one of the strongest benefactors and allies of that influence — the government coalition of al-Maliki.

“I’m not confident we know what the hell we’re doing when we’re making these actions,” Brian Katulis, a senior fellow at the Centre for American Progress, a Washington think tank, told IPS.

The two strongest parties in al-Maliki’s coalition, his own Dawa Party and ISCI, have both been based out of Iran and are both Shia religious parties …

ISCI and Iran, for example, support a Shia super-region in the south as part of a loosely federated Iraqi state. The homogenous super-region would likely facilitate Iranian influence. Both Sadr and the U.S. oppose the idea in favour of a strong central government.

The Captain says that the folks with the Multinational Force are far too smart not to have figured this out by now.  It all comes down to a lack of political will.  While spot on concerning the other allegiances (with Dawa and ISCI), the analysis above is far too complimentary of Sadr and his militia, and his criminal elements must be taken down.  Ralph Peters agrees (or more correctly, the Captain agrees with Ralph Peters), in his commentary on Hezbollah.

Hezbollah, our mortal enemy, must be destroyed. But we – Israel, the United States, Europe – lack the will. And will is one thing Hezbollah and its backers in Iran and Syria don’t lack: They’ll kill anyone and destroy anything to win.

We won’t. We still think we can talk our way out of a hit job. Not only are we reluctant to kill those bent on killing us – we don’t even want to offend them.

Hezbollah’s shocking defeat of Israel in 2006 (when will Western leaders learn that you can’t measure out war in teaspoons?) highlighted the key military question of our time: How can humane, law-abiding states defeat merciless postnational organizations that obey only the “laws” of bloodthirsty gods?

The answer, as Iraq and Afghanistan should have taught us, is that you have to gut the organization and kill the hardcore cadres. (Exactly how many al Qaeda members have we converted to secular humanism?).

Entranced by the military vogue of the season, we don’t even get our terminology right. Defeating Hezbollah has nothing to do with counterinsurgency warfare – the situation’s gone far beyond that. We’re facing a new form of “non-state state” built around a fanatical killing machine that rejects all of our constraints.

No one is going to win Hezbollah’s hearts and minds. Its fighters and their families have already shifted into full-speed fanaticism, and there’s no reverse gear. Hezbollah has to be destroyed.

As the more timid among us gasp for air and cry out “get thee to thy fainting couch!” the contrast between the Anbar campaign – about which the Captain should know just a little – and the balance of Operation Iraqi Freedom comes fully into the light once again.  No quarter was given to recalcitrant fighters by the U.S. Marines, whether al Qaeda, Ansar al Sunna, or indigenous Sunnis.  Al Qaeda was killed or captured, and the indigenous Sunnis were killed or battered to the point of exhaustion and surrender.  Not coincidentally, they (they Sunnis who live in Anbar) are now our friends.  This is the way it works.

Badr was co-opted into the ISF without so much as evidence that their loyalties lied with Iraq (and while they still received pension paychecks from Iran), and the Multinational Force has played patty cake with the Sadrists since 2003.  Whether Hezbollah in Lebanon or ISCI or JAM in Iraq, they are all manifestations of the long arm of the Iranian regime.  Ralph’s declarations that Hezbollah must be destroyed – and the Captain’s declarations that Iranian influence must be rooted out of Iraq – will probably go unheeded.  It all comes down to a lack of political will.  And upon this, in our estimation, rests the success of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Ending Iran’s Influence Inside Iraq

BY Herschel Smith
16 years, 2 months ago

Concerning actions in Sadr City, we have noted before that the emplacement of concrete barriers was initially intended to prohibit the firing of mortar rounds into the Baghdad Green zone, and we recommended pressing the campaign forward into Sadr City proper.  There are further reports about the difficulty of completing the wall due to combat operations by the Sadrists in an attempt to prevent its construction.

U.S. troops and Shi’ite militants are clashing daily in Baghdad’s volatile Al-Sadr City as fighters tied to radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr try to stop, or at least delay, construction of a 5-kilometer barrier to keep them from firing rockets on the International Zone, the seat of the Iraqi government.

The battleground is a section of Al-Quds Street, a garbage-strewn thoroughfare that separates the Jamilla and Tharwa neighborhoods from the northern heart of the Shi’ite enclave of 2.5 million people. The wall is intended to restrict access to the southern part of Al-Sadr City, from where militants launch rocket attacks on the International Zone.

“You go high, I’ll go low — on the count of three,” a soldier from Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 68th Armor Regiment, yelled to another on a recent afternoon.

The two were returning fire on snipers from al-Sadr’s Al-Mahdi Army who were hiding in a nearby building and firing on troops constructing the barrier.

Moments later, the two let loose with long volleys of rifle fire at the top and the bottom of a building as other soldiers moved a new section of barrier into place.

Fighting a day later along the wall was so heavy that construction halted — but only for a half-hour — as soldiers poured rifle, machine-gun, and cannon fire on snipers firing from nearby alleyways and building.

The wall consists of 3.7-meter-high concrete slabs, each weighing over 5 tons. Soldiers from the 64th Brigade Support Battalion, a National Guard unit that normally transports water, fuel, and other supplies to soldiers, ferry the barriers using forklift loaders from a nearby staging area and lower them into place with a crane. Soldiers from 1/68 provide security and also help guide the slabs into place. The first slab was placed on April 19, and despite daily ambushes by gunmen, more than 1,000 now stand, meaning the wall is nearly half-completed.

“This is a mission that has to get done, to stop these thugs from firing their rockets and stuff,” says First Sergeant Conrad Gonzales, of Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 68th Armored Regiment. “Every day we get attacked, every day we’re putting in barriers. The mission has to go on, it has to be accomplished and we can’t let anyone stop us.”

But regarding Sadr City proper and pressing the campaign forward, Baghdad is bracing for more combat and preparing its citizens to leave the affected areas.

The authorities in Baghdad say they are preparing for an exodus of thousands of people from eastern parts of the city.

Fighting between government and US troops on one side, and Shia militia on the other, has intensified recently.

Two football stadiums are on stand-by to receive residents from two neighbourhoods in the Sadr City area.

The government has warned of an imminent push to clear the areas of members of the MehdiArmy, loyal to the anti-American cleric, Moqtada Sadr.

In the last seven weeks around 1,000 people have died, and more than 2,500 others have been injured, most of them civilians.

The fighting so far in Sadr City has been fierce – street to street, and house to house.

Ed Morrissey presumes much when he says of the operation that “Maliki also wants to end Iran’s influence in Iraq, which caused Iran to cut off security talks with Maliki and the US.”  If this is so, then the plan should be fairly straight forward to implement.

We have noted before that many in the Badr organization (SIIC) still receive pension paychecks from Iran, more specifically from the IRGC.  In order to defeat Iran within Iraq, Maliki could implement at least (but not limited to) the following steps.

  1. Force Badr to refuse the acceptance of any more paychecks from Iran.
  2. Fully integrate them into the Iraqi Security Forces, and more specifically, with Sunni fighters.
  3. Have the more knowledgeable members point out and target the Iranian smuggling lines by which weapons, money and Iranian intelligence assets are brought into Iraq.
  4. Have Badr attack these lines and arrest known members of the IRG and Quds (the National Council of Resistance of Iran has a list of several thousand Iranians currently undermining the stability of Iraq,  by name).  No faction in Iraq will be in a better position to target Iranian forces than Badr.  Both numbers 3 and 4 must be results based, not intent based.  If results are not achieved, then Badr fails.
  5. Have members of Badr publicly repudiate Iran and all that it stands for.

These simple actions would go a long way towards neutering the effectiveness of Iran within Iraq.  As for Basra which the Iraqi Security Forces were proudly said to “own” after the short campaign there a few weeks ago, perhaps the Sadrists should continue to be targeted, since they recently launched twenty Katyusha rockets towards the Basra airport where the British forces are still hunkered down protecting British forces (note that these rockets are the same as launched by Hezbollah against Israel in the last war – that is, the Hezbollah that is supported and armed by Iran).

Next, U.S. and Iraqi Security Forces can continue to target the Mahdi militia in Sadr City until the campaign is completed.  In other words, the campaign in Basra is no more complete than in 2004 when the Marines cleared Fallujah.  Fallujah required until 2007 to be completed.  Al Qaeda was stronger than the Mahdi militia, and so three years will not be required.  But a couple of weeks isn’t sufficient either, as twenty Katyusha rockets in Basra prove.  The campaign in Sadr City is just beginning, and proper counterinsurgency (take, hold, security, rebuild, proper governance) will most certainly take longer than weeks, and suggestions that it will be over soon do not comport with professional military doctrine.

Now.  Does Maliki really want to end Iran’s influence in Iraq?  Time will tell.  Patience.

Moderation on Basra and Sadr City

BY Herschel Smith
16 years, 2 months ago

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.

Basra and Iran

BY Herschel Smith
16 years, 3 months ago

Michael Ledeen argues (as he has before) that it will be virtually impossible to achieve a durable peace in Iraq without confronting and dealing with the Iranian presence and influence.  The Captain’s Journal agrees and has advocated for some time that an insurgency be fomented inside the borders of Iran.  There is no end to the gushing reports about success in Basra, in spite of the defections, orders not to fire at the Mahdi militia, and premature stand-down in operations.

The Captain’s Journal has been quite a bit less sanguine about the Basra campaign, and continues to be so.  The gushing reports, in addition to ignoring the poor planning and execution of the operation, ignore both its short duration and broader connection to Iran.  The campaign in Basra must not be seen in the aggregate.  It has now been made clear that Iranian fighters and military leadership -Quds and even Hezbollah – were directing the fight in many areas of Iraq, and that Moqtada al Sadr has become a (militarily) irrelevant mouthpiece for Iran.

The top two U.S. officials in Iraq accused Iran, Syria and Lebanon’s Hezbollah on Tuesday of fueling recent fighting in Baghdad, saying Tehran and Damascus were pursuing a “Lebanization strategy” in Iraq.

“The hand of Iran was very clear in recent weeks,” U.S. commander in Iraq, Army Gen. David Petraeus, said at a hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee.

But Petraeus told lawmakers that Iran’s Qods Force and Hezbollah were funding, training, arming and directing renegade Shi’ite groups he blamed for recent deadly rocket and mortar attacks in the Iraqi capital.

“Unchecked, the special groups pose the greatest long-term threat to the viability of a democratic Iraq,” said the four-star general.

Speaking from Iran, al Sadr said “the government should “protect the Iraqi people from the booby traps and American militias” and “demand the withdrawal of the occupier or a schedule for its withdrawal from our holy land.”  These are the words of Ayatollah Khamenei, and the Mahdi militia is little more than puppets of Iran.

The beginnings of this current campaign apparently came from Iranian concerns over a great many things, including the strength of the Sunni awakening fighters.

For its part, Tehran was angered by the latest American plan based on a ‘divide and conquer’ approach and fears that Iraq will become a US protectorate after the US has discovered a barrier against the Shia-dominated government in the [predominately] Sunni Sahwa (Awakening) protection forces. Tehran’s apprehension was quite considerable; especially after Bush declared that the Sahwa forces presently number 90,000 strong (members receive monthly salary of US $300).

Through an editorial written by Selig S. Harrison in the ‘Boston Globe’, Tehran was able communicate its point across to the US: “Unless [General David] Petraeus drastically cuts back the Sunni militias, Tehran will unleash the Shia militias against US forces again and step up to help al Maliki’s intelligence service, the Ministry of National Security.” This was followed by al Maliki’s attack on the Mehdi army in Basra.

The article written by the stooge Selig S. Harrison is entitled Working with Iran to Stabilize Iraq, a strategy also endorsed by Senator Jim Webb.  But assisting in the stability of Iraq is the last thing Iran can be expected to do.  The failure of the Basra campaign is simply that it stopped far short of what is needed.  Iran has become masters at starting, stopping, delaying, relocating, withdrawing, calling for a truce, hiding in the shadows, and in general conducting surreptitious warfare against the U.S.  This is exactly what has happened in Basra.

The temporary and fragile peace in Basra was purchased through negotiations with none other than Iran.

The Mehdi militiamen withdrew from the streets after six days of fighting, but they appear to have taken their arms with them, defying Prime Minister Maliki’s initial demand that all militia-held medium and heavy weapons be surrendered.

The political leadership of Iraq is saying that there was no deal with the Mehdi militia to stop the fighting.

On Thursday Mr Maliki insisted he had not ordered negotiations with Moqtada Sadr.

And a source close to the prime minister says that Moqtada Sadr’s order to cease fighting came at the instigation of Iran.

The source said that as the bloodshed in Basra began early last week, Moqtada Sadr tried to telephone Prime Minister Maliki from Qom, in Iran – and the prime minister refused to take his call.

But a delegation from the United Iraqi Alliance, the parliamentary bloc that supports Mr Maliki, flew to Tehran, where they told representatives of the Iranian leadership that Iran’s involvement in stirring up the militia violence was unacceptable and would have to stop, the source said.

They pointed out that Iranian munitions were being used in the fighting.

The Iranian leadership, according to the source, then brought Moqtada Sadr to Tehran.

There, late on Saturday night, he crafted the statement that would order his Mehdi Army militiamen off the streets, the source said.

In this version of events, the Iraqi prime minister retains the ability to deny entering talks with Moqtada Sadr. In effect, it appears to have been done for him, with Iranian influence brought to bear.

In order to obtain a victory in Basra and Sadr City proper, Maliki and the Multinational Force must think regionally.  Several important tactics must be pressed.  First, the Mahdi militia must be completely taken out and disarmed.  They can be seen as nothing more than Iranian proxy fighters.  Second, the SIIC (otherwise ISCI) has a great influence in Shi’ite Iraq, and it must be dealt with.  As Fred Kaplan notes, “the Iranians won because Maliki turned to them to mediate the cease-fire with Sadr, thus confirming their status as a major player in Iraqi politics and a dominant power on Iraq’s southern port. (The Iranians probably would have won no matter what happened, because the rival Shiite militia backing Maliki—the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, 10,000 members of which fought alongside the official army—also has ties to Iran. Maliki afterward admitted those 10,000 into the national armed forces. Does this mean that the ISCI militia has been co-opted into the Iraqi government—or that the government is, even more than before, controlled by the militia?).”

In order to cut ties with Iran, the SIIC “members” of the Iraqi Security Forces – who had to fight only rival miltias in Basra this time around – should be forced to rid Iraq of all Iranian influence, including Quds, Hezbollah, IRG and any other proxy Iranian fighters.  Failure to do so, from leadership down to the lowest ranking soldier, should be addressed as treason.  Until the SIIC is forced to fight for Iraq as opposed to fighting against rival gangs, they too are merely Iranian proxy forces.

At the moment, The Captain’s Journal is unpersuaded that any good has come from Basra and Sadr city fighting.  The campaign isn’t over, but with General David Petraeus, we are disappointed in the results so far.

Bill Lind’s Iranian Nightmare

BY Herschel Smith
16 years, 3 months ago

Bad dreams are scary things.  The sweats, the shakes, the bad memories, or whatever.  I don’t know.  I have never actually had a nightmare before so I wouldn’t know (except maybe the one about failing to turn in my last senior exam and failing to graduate college, thus having to start over again – it was indeed a bad, bad night for The Captain’s Journal, very little sleep).  But Bill Lind gives us one to consider.  It begins in Iran, with the pitiful U.S. Army and Marines running for cover and trying to escape the horrible wrath of mechanized divisions of the powerful Iranian guard.

Now, to be clear, we have not advocated all out ground war with Iran, but rather, selected air strikes against insurgent training grounds, enhanced border security, more aggressive tactics against Badr (SIIC) and Sadr (actually, we have advocated the assassination of Sadr) and his so-called Mahdi Army, and the fomenting of a full blown insurgency in Iran.  But Bill Lind sees a nightmare if we launch air strikes into Iran.  Courtesy of a Small Wars Journal discussion thread, here is is.  Gird your loins or run for mommy, for it is a bad situation indeed.

The purpose of this column is not to warn of an imminent assault on Iran, though personally I think it is coming, and soon. Rather, it is to warn of a possible consequence of such an attack. Let me state it here, again, as plainly as I can: an American attack on Iran could cost us the whole army we now have in Iraq.

Here’s roughly how it might play out. In response to American air and missile strikes on military targets inside Iran, Iran moves to cut the supply lines coming up from the south through the Persian Gulf (can anyone in the Pentagon guess why it’s called that?) and Kuwait on which most U.S. Army units in Iraq depend (the Marines get most of their stuff through Jordan). It does so by hitting shipping in the Gulf, mining key choke points, and destroying the port facilities we depend on, mostly through sabotage. It also hits oil production and export facilities in the Gulf region, as a decoy: we focus most of our response on protecting the oil, not guarding our army’s supply lines.

Simultaneously, Iran activates the Shiite militias to cut the roads that lead from Kuwait to Baghdad. Both the Mahdi Army and the Badr Brigades — the latter now supposedly our allies — enter the war against us with their full strength. Ayatollah Sistani, an Iranian, calls on all Iraqi Shiites to fight the Americans wherever they find them. Instead of fighting the 20% of Iraqis population that is Sunni, we find ourselves battling the 60% that is Shiite. Worse, the Shiites logistics lie directly across those logistics lines coming up from Kuwait.

U.S. Army forces in Iraq begin to run out of supplies, especially POL [petroleum, oil, and lubricants], of which they consume a vast amount. Once they are largely immobilized by lack of fuel, and the region gets some bad weather that keeps our aircraft grounded or at least blind, Iran sends two to four regular army armor and mech divisions across the border. Their objective is to pocket American forces in and around Baghdad.

The U.S. military in Iraq is all spread out in penny packets fighting insurgents. We have no field army there anymore. We cannot reconcentrate because we’re out of gas and Shiite guerrillas control the roads. What units don’t get overrun by Iranian armor or Shiite militia end up in the Baghdad Kessel. General Petraeus calls President Bush and repeats the famous words of Marshal MacMahon at Sedan: “Nous sorrune dans une pot de chambre, and nous y serron emerdee.” Bush thinks he’s overheard Petraeus ordering dinner — as, for Bush, he has.

U.S. Marines in Iraq, who are mostly in Anbar province, are the only force we have left. Their lines of supply and retreat through Jordan are intact. The local Sunnis want to join them in fighting the hated Persians. What do they do at that point? Good question.

As I have warned before, every American ground unit in Iraq needs its own plan to get itself out of the country using only its own resources and whatever it can scrounge locally. Retreat to the north, through Kurdistan into Turkey, will be the only alternative open to most U.S. Army units, other than ending up in an Iranian POW camp.

Even if the probability of the above scenario is low, we still need to take it with the utmost seriousness because the consequences would be so vast. If the United States lost the army it has in Iraq, we would never recover from the defeat. It would be another Adrianople, another Manzikert, another Rocroi. Given the many other ways we now resemble Imperial Spain, the last analogy may be the most telling.

Waking from the cold sweats, we can now evaluate this nightmare.  We re-wrote part of this scenario over the discussion thread something like the following:

“Iran sends two to four mech divisions across the border, and to their surprise are awaited by so many U.S. aircraft monitoring, bombing and firing cannon at their slow, lumbering vehicles that the roads become another “highway of death,” with Iranian dead and vehicles littering roads for miles, great columns of smoke filling the skies, Iranian students protesting in the capital city, and the government in virtual collapse …”

The air power (AF, Navy, and Marines) desperately wants to be unleashed.  They ache for it.  They pant for it.  So, give them the Iranian and Syrian borders.  Tell them that unmitigated war makes trade and population migration unreasonable, and so anything that comes across the border is fair game to be utterly destroyed.  The AF will unleash their fighters, and their A-10Cs with its faster kill chain (please send us the video).  The Navy air craft carriers will be busy.  U.S. air power will have a good day, which is about how long it will take to destroy four mechanized divisions and send them to eternity.  Literally, all hell would be unleashed upon Iranian forces were they to be sent across the border.

Next, to suppose that the Army could not regroup from counterinsurgency into a conventional fighting force quickly enough is preposterous.  From combat outposts they would come from all around, excited with anticipation, and the only question is who could get to the forces of Badr and Sadr the fastest – the Army or Marines in Anbar.  The Marines would make a good show of it, making proud to saddle on backpacks, body armor, hydration system, ammunition, weapon and MREs from all over Anbar and using HMMWVs and foot power to get to the fight before the Army did.  Patton, the architect of the relief of Bastone, would be proud.

The Marines are bored, bored, bored in Anbar.  Any chance to get back into the fray would be met with approval from the rank and file.  Lind’s nightmare is scary indeed, but hopefully he is awake now and things look better than they did before.  The notion of Marines running for the Jordanian border seems far removed from reality now.  It’s better to be awake and in reality than not.  The Marines don’t run, Bill.

Basra and Anbar Reverse Roles

BY Herschel Smith
16 years, 10 months ago

In Operation Alljah and the Marines of 2nd Battalion, 6th Regiment, we interviewed Lt. Col. William F. Mullen who gave us a realistic but positive report on the accomplishments of the Marines in Fallujah.  As expected, we received e-mail from detractors (is Fallujah really this much better off?).  There are also reports that take the same facts and turn them into a completely different interpretation than the one we published.

We have also published extensively on the calamity in Basra, the British having essentially lost the military struggle for Basra and surrounding areas.  True to form, this assessment has also been questioned by detractors.  But even the British are finally managing to turn their gaze towards just how bad the situation is in Basra.

Like Donald Rumsfeld, the man British commentators love to hate, we never sent enough troops to Iraq. At first we were pretty condescending to the Americans, insisting that our light touch, learned in Northern Ireland, was far more effective than their alleged heavy-handedness. We were wrong. Basra is not Londonderry. Our ever-lower profile was seen by local militias — and the public — as weakness. As a result the militia grewstronger and stronger, and now Basra is a town of warring gangs. We never committed enough — and we reduced our numbers much too soon. We now have only 5,000 men and women in Basra. That small force must protect itself, must continue training the 10th Iraqi Division.

The U.S. has also begun to divulge the sensitivity of the situation.

“This is less an insurgency issue than it is criminal, a borderline Mafia kind of situation. You’ve got competing criminal interests looking for territory down there,” said Geoff Morrell, the Pentagon’s press secretary.

“So that has certainly complicated matters for the Brits down there, and it certainly remains a concern for us,” he told reporters.

Britain has 5,500 troops in Basra but almost all have been pulled back to the airport where they are training Iraqi forces.

This admission may be gratuitous. Beyond criminal activity, three strong, competing Shi’a factions are at war with one another and openly demanding protection money from the population: Jaish al Mahdi, the Fadhila Party, and SIIC (Badr).

So what is the relationship between Basra and Anbar, and is there any acendotal evidence to back up these analyses?  The best on-the-scene evidence comes from Omar Fadhil of Iraq the Model, who assesses the reversal of roles between the Shi’a south and the Sunni West in Crossing Anbar.

We’ve been getting some reports about the improvement in security in Anbar in the last few months but little was said about the highway that runs across the province.

The several hundred kilometer western section of the international highway is technically Iraq’s second “port” in a way as it connects Iraq with Syria and Jordan and was for years the only window to the world when all airports and the southern ports in Basra were closed to traffic in the 1990s.

For most of the time between 2004 and 2007 taking this road was considered suicidal behavior as the chance someone would be robbed or killed was too high.

But with the tribal awakening in Anbar that cleared large parts of the province from al-Qaeda the highway is expected to be safer, but how much safer?

My family returned yesterday from a vacation in Syria and they have used this road twice in six weeks. I had tried hard to convince them not to do that and take a flight instead but now after hearing their story I’m convinced that my fear was not justified; the road is safe…

This is good not only for Iraq’s economy and traveling but also for the American troops who can use this road as an alternative supply route in case the British troops withdraw and leave the strategic southern highway between Kuwait and Baghdad unguarded.

Back to the story; there are two travel plans for passenger SUV’s and buses from Damascus to Baghdad; one includes leaving Damascus between 10 pm and midnight, reaching the Syrian border control before dawn, entering the Iraqi border control at 8 am and arriving in Baghdad around sunset. A total of approximately 20 hours with 6 to 7 hours lost in waiting and passport control.

The second plan includes leaving Damascus at noon and here convoys carrying the passengers continue to move all the way until a short distance northwest of Ramadi. At this point the time would be between midnight and 2 am and since that’s within curfew hours in Baghdad, the drivers park their vehicles and everyone gets to sleep 3 or 4 hours and wait for the sun to rise and then the journey would continue.

Now the first plan sounds predictable, safe and well planned given the distance and necessary stops. But look at the second one carefully and try to picture the scene; dozens of passenger SUV’s (GMC trucks mostly) and buses parking in he middle of nowhere in a zone that was until recently the heart of al-Qaeda’s Islamic state! Obviously the drivers and families feel safe enough that they know they won’t be robbed and slaughtered by cold-blooded terrorists. Even more interesting, this parking and resting zone was not designated nor protected by the Iraqi or American forces but simply an arrangement the drivers managed on their own perhaps with cooperation from the local tribes.

I still laugh every time I think of this incredible change and I honestly wouldn’t have believed it if the story teller wasn’t my father.

This sign of positive progress brings to my mind a sad irony. Back in 2004 when taking the Anbar highway was out of question for me, the Sunni dentist, I made the trip back and fourth between Baghdad and Basra countless times without any fear.

Now, I’m ready to try the trip through the west, but going south through the militia infested land is something I’d never dare do at this stage.

The reports on the pacification of Anbar are indeed correct, and sadly, the British failure in Basra has made Operation Iraqi Freedom much more complicated.


The British Flight from Basra

BY Herschel Smith
16 years, 11 months ago

In Calamity in Basra and British Rules of Engagement, we pointed out that the British had essentially been militarily defeated in Basra.

Richard Beeston, diplomatic editor of The Times of London recently returned from a visit to Basra, his first since 2003. He says in 2003, British soldiers were on foot patrol, drove through town in unarmored vehicles and fished in the waters of the Shaat al Arab on their days off. He says the changes he saw four years later are enormous.

“Nowadays all troop movement in and out of the city are conducted at night by helicopter because it’s been deemed too dangerous to go on the road and its dangerous to fly choppers during the day,

The British Flight from Basra

BY Herschel Smith
16 years, 11 months ago

In Calamity in Basra and British Rules of Engagement, we pointed out that the British had essentially been militarily defeated in Basra.

Richard Beeston, diplomatic editor of The Times of London recently returned from a visit to Basra, his first since 2003. He says in 2003, British soldiers were on foot patrol, drove through town in unarmored vehicles and fished in the waters of the Shaat al Arab on their days off. He says the changes he saw four years later are enormous.

“Nowadays all troop movement in and out of the city are conducted at night by helicopter because it’s been deemed too dangerous to go on the road and its dangerous to fly choppers during the day,

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