Thursday, March 27, 2008
The surge was a qualified public relations success, as long as the US armed and paid Sunni insurgents to fight al-Qaeda, and honored a unilateral cease fire called by Muqtada al-Sadr. A contemporary instance of phony war. Now, the magician's trick has been revealed. The prospects do not look promising, as there are already reports of police defections and Iraqi troops refusing to fight.
The Iraqi army's offensive against the Shia militia of the radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr in Basra is failing to make significant headway despite a pledge by the Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to fight "to the end".
Instead of being a show of strength, the government's stalled assault is demonstrating its shaky authority over much of Baghdad and southern Iraq. As the situation spins out of Mr Maliki's control, saboteurs blew up one of the two main oil export pipelines near Basra, cutting by a third crude exports from the oilfields around the city. The international price of oil jumped immediately by $1 a barrel before falling back.
In Baghdad, tens of thousands of supporters of Mr Sadr, whose base of support is the Shia poor, marched through the streets shouting slogans demanding that Mr Maliki's government be overthrown. "We demand the downfall of the Maliki government," said one of the marchers, Hussein Abu Ali. "It does not represent the people. It represents Bush and Cheney."
The main bastion of the Sadrist movement is impoverished Sadr City, which has a population of two million and is almost a twin city to Baghdad. The densely packed slum has been sealed off by US troops. "We are trapped in our homes with no water or electricity since yesterday," said a resident called Mohammed. "We can't bathe our children or wash our clothes."
The streets are controlled by Mehdi Army fighters, many of whom say they expect an all-out American attack, though this seems unlikely since the US says that an attack on the Shia militias is a wholly Iraqi affair.
In Basra, Iraqi forces have cordoned off seven districts but appear stalled in their effort to dislodge the Mehdi Army fighters. Masked gunmen in some cases have captured or seized abandoned Iraqi army vehicles and painted pro-Sadrist slogans on their armour.