With the increasingly good news in Iraq over the last several weeks, I had been preparing for myself a tossed salad of crow, guarded optimism, and chagrin (at the benefit it might give John McCain’s candidacy). I thought all the progress attained up to a few weeks ago might unravel until Muqtada al-Sadr extended for another several months the ceasefire he had ordered for his Mahdi Army (JAM). I let myself get quite hopeful about the effectiveness of the surge. Then last week happened.
The Iraqi security forces, under direct command of the Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, went into Basra, the country’s second largest city and the virtual spigot to the oil lines, to clear out the entrenched JAM. With 16,000 troops, Maliki met stiff resistance. A cease-fire was finally called when a band of Iraqi lawmakers went to Iran to talk to Sadr (who is in Iran studying to become an ayatollah) and got him to issue another ceasefire order to the JAM.
The result of this battle is devastating. Several things became woefully apparent. First, the Iraqi security forces cannot secure the country. A state’s legitimacy is dependent on its ability to defend itself from internal and external threats. It is obvious that Iraq can’t defend itself from external threats without the help if the U.S. But the fact that it can’t put down an internal threat is even more worrisome.
Second, the situation has established Sadr as a primary power-broker, at opposition with Maliki (contrary to their initial collaboration, which many credit with putting Maliki into power). Sadr has ingeniously shown the arrows in his left talon but turned his face to the olive branch in his right, thereby establishing a moral authority—he has shown that he wants peace (whether disingenuously or not, no one can know). He and his followers are now the peace-loving victims of an over-aggressive national army and PM.
Third, it brings Iran into the mix as a power broker. CNN reports that Iran urged Sadr to call the cease fire. So as Sadr’s importance rises in Iraq, so does Iran’s—and they look like doves.
Finally, this will extend and expand the planned U.S. effort, at least until the next President is sworn in. It shows that the surge must be made at least partially permanent if the military option is to be continued—which will break the military. It will also result in more American deaths (just past 4,000 last week), more American money spent (debt that we or our children will have to pay some day), more erosion of the stability of the members of the military as a whole and as individuals, physically, socially, and mentally.
And at the end of all that, we’ll end up with buyer’s remorse at having established a de facto puppet regime for the Iranians to control in the person of Muqtada al-Sadr, thereby disequilibrating the Sunni-Shiite power balance that Saddam Hussein’s evil force maintained.
This all simply shows how tenuous the situation is. Planning is basically futile. Will it be better in the end?