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Tilting at Windmills

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March 27, 2008
By: Kevin Drum

WHO'S WHO....Can't tell the players without a program in the 2-way (or is it 3-way or 4-way?) intra-Shiite gang war currently underway in Basra and southern Iraq? Here's a quick cheat sheet:

  • ISCI = SIIC = new name for SCIRI = Badr Corps = "aristocratic" Hakim family = exiles during Saddam Hussein's reign = pro-Iran = generally in control of army and security forces = pro-U.S. = ally of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and his Dawa Party.

  • Mahdi Army = JAM = "firebrand cleric" Muqtada al-Sadr = Iraqi nationalists = originally part of Maliki's governing coalition but no longer = anti-U.S. = populist/working class orientation = controls much of the oil sector in Basra.

  • "Special groups" = rogue elements of the Mahdi Army = maybe Sadr is just as happy to have Maliki take these guys out for him, but who knows for sure?

  • Fadhila = ex-allies of Sadr = won some elections in Basra in 2005 = smallest of the three Shiite factions in the south.

Corrections/amplifications welcome. You may now go about your reading.

Kevin Drum 7:25 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (51)

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Comments

Can't tell the players without a program in the 2-way (or is it 3-way or 4-way?) intra-Shiite gang war currently underway in Basra and southern Iraq?

Nope.

By the way, that's our cue to get the hell out of Iraq.

Posted by: Common Sense on March 27, 2008 at 7:29 PM | PERMALINK

And naturally, the US is supporting the most pro-Iranian faction (Hakim) against the least pro-Iranian Shiite faction (Sadr), while simultaneously blaming the whole thing on Iran.

Evidently Sadr had the idea of using the cease-fire to allow his allies to democratically take power in the south, but Maliki and Hakim can't tolerate that, so they started arresting Sadrists, despite the cease-fire. Sadr first called for a campaign of civil disobedience, which immediately turned into open war.

Not that Sadr is in any way a good guy, but he's no worse than the people we installed in the Green Zone.

Posted by: Joe Buck on March 27, 2008 at 7:34 PM | PERMALINK

The enemy of my enemy's enemies is . . . No, wait. The enemies of my enemies' enemy is . . .

Posted by: JHM on March 27, 2008 at 7:39 PM | PERMALINK

Hi Kevin,

My colleague Fester looks at force ratios and they don't say a lot for Maliki's chances:

"During the Second Battle of Fallujah, the US attacking forces were composed of a composite division as six battalions led the main attack, another battalion as a diversion force, and two battalions as local reserves. Additionally an Iraqi Army brigade was present as a mop-up/press release force. The defending forces would have been the equivlant of two or three battalions of light infantry and local insurgents/neighborhood militias. Fallujah was a city of roughly 300,00 residents before the assault. And this assualt was supported by theatre level artillery and air support. And despite this large armored and heavy infantry force with excellent air support, plenty of helicopter mobility and firepower, superior logistics, the defending force was able to inflict heavy absolute and proportional casualties --- roughly 10% of the US force was wounded or killed, and many infantry companies saw 30% to 50% casualty levels.

The Iraqi Army force in Basra is a single division of lightly supported infantry with some US/UK locally controlled air support, minimal artillery, minimal aviation support. Basra is a city of 2.6 million people (2003) and it is overwhelmingly Shi'ite. If one assumes that one half of one percent of the male population are available to be called up for Mahdi Army fighting units, the defenders have numerical parity with the attacking force. That is never a good thing, especially when the defenders are on their own grounds, fighting from prepared positions in dense urban networks and have higher morale and more firepower than the attackers.

So again --- why was this attacked launched with what looks to be massively insuffucient force levels on the part of the Iraqi Army? Was it pure staff stupidity/buying into your own propaganda that the JAM is a bunch of thugs with no popular support? Was it that the 14th Division was the only reliable division? Was it a hope that the introduction of a large force would destablize the local equilibriums of power and thus prompt local Badr and Fadillah militia attacks?"

Regards, C

Posted by: Cernig on March 27, 2008 at 7:49 PM | PERMALINK

FUBAR

To think we thought that this war was a "just" one.

We can't even keep the players straight.

Question: Didn't we already kill all of the 52 enemies in that infamous deck of cards?

Perpetuawar. God Bush us All!

Posted by: Tom Nicholson on March 27, 2008 at 7:55 PM | PERMALINK

Anybody ever here of Swiftdats? I figure that eluded the Governor Dean pers[ixacity. It never entered the Dr. Dean universe. If Michigan and Florida don' count, why does Dr. Dean count? Who does this asshole think he is?

If you can explain this lets hear it. Who cares about Dr. Dean, and he ain't no doctor, and he ain't some seminal democrat. He's somebody that despises the DNC. And now he's the DNC.

What I think: If we want to get the hell out, if you aren't a moron, you vote for a Democrat.

Posted by: prospero on March 27, 2008 at 8:18 PM | PERMALINK

Another excellent teaching gem from Kevin Drum. He's created a pile of 'em.

Posted by: ferd on March 27, 2008 at 8:19 PM | PERMALINK

Ah, the plot for "South Side Story" soon coming to a theatre near you.

Maybe

"The power of accurate observation is commonly called cynicism by those who have not got it." - George Bernard Shaw

Posted by: daCascadian on March 27, 2008 at 8:30 PM | PERMALINK

This was obvious. I knew the shia would fight the shia. You had to be an idiot not to see it.

Posted by: prospero on March 27, 2008 at 8:38 PM | PERMALINK

Fadhila is said to be anti-Iranian. It is rumored that, in the past, the UK favored them. So sometimes called "anti-Iranian Shi'ites".

As to how roguey the special groups are, I wouldn't necessarily believe anything Moqtada al Sadr says. They might be doing his dirty work for him while he laments his lack of ability to control them.

Posted by: Robert Waldmann on March 27, 2008 at 8:39 PM | PERMALINK

From the top of my head:
Badr brigades = "police commando`s"
Meghdi Armi = "ministry of health" = the people who brought you all those sunny stats (Well, after they made detour trough the pentagon). You know, the stats only seem to make it in from Baghdad morgues, not the rest of the country. Stats at about at 1/10th the violent and non violent excess death rate of the Lancet death certificate survey rates. The ministry accused in the Washington post of playing down the stats of Shia reprisals for the Golden mosque bombing. It may have something to do with Sunni males not going to shia hospitals, bad for ones health.

Sadrs gangs make a lot of their money "renting" out the houses of Sunnies that I hope had a chance to flee.

The international crisis group has an excellent intro about Sadrs movement.

Oh and "popular movement" translates into Shia ratting out the remaining sunnies in their Baghdad neighberhoods.

The Shia allies are the easy part, try keeping track of the Sunnis!

Posted by: rt on March 27, 2008 at 9:07 PM | PERMALINK

Can you believe Bush's latest comments about the trouble in Basra being "a sign of the success of the surge". What is this guy smoking? Do you suppose he is back on the bottle? Good God, this guy just gets stranger and stranger as his Administration circles the drain.....

Posted by: The Conservative Deflator on March 27, 2008 at 9:09 PM | PERMALINK

- What about Da'wa? Yet another Saddam-era, Shia-in-exile political party - don't they have a dog in this fight?

Posted by: Dave L on March 27, 2008 at 9:17 PM | PERMALINK

What about Da'wa?

I thought they were basically the same as option 1, but correct me if that's wrong, somebody. Help!

Posted by: David in NY on March 27, 2008 at 9:23 PM | PERMALINK

And now comes word that people shouldn't leave fortified buildings in the Green Zone without body armor. Soldiers can only get "take out" meals so we don't have large gatherings of them in one place making a nice target.

But the Surge was a Suck-sess.

Posted by: tomeck on March 27, 2008 at 9:34 PM | PERMALINK

What about Da'wa?
I thought they were basically the same as option 1, but correct me if that's wrong, somebody. Help!

Dawa IS Maliki's group and together with the ISCI form the core of the Iraqi government.

Posted by: Joe on March 27, 2008 at 9:56 PM | PERMALINK

Cernig:

Interesting. Sounds like Lebanon '06.

Posted by: Model 62 on March 27, 2008 at 10:07 PM | PERMALINK

Having spent another Good Friday watching "Life of Brian," I feel it's extremely important to stress the difference between the Popular Front of Judaism and the Judaic People's Popular Front. Splitters!!

Posted by: Frank on March 27, 2008 at 10:15 PM | PERMALINK

When RayGun sent troops into Lebanon they were briefed on how there were 14 different groups fighting each other in various combinations.

Posted by: R.L. on March 27, 2008 at 10:34 PM | PERMALINK

Sounds like Whack-a-Tribe

Posted by: Jet on March 27, 2008 at 10:35 PM | PERMALINK

Speaking of Raygun, remember what McMaverick said back then?

The fundamental question is: What is the United States’ interest in Lebanon? It is said we are there to keep the peace. I ask, what peace? It is said we are there to aid the government. I ask, what government? It is said we are there to stabilize the region. I ask, how can the U.S. presence stabilize the region?... The longer we stay in Lebanon, the harder it will be for us to leave. We will be trapped by the case we make for having our troops there in the first place.

What can we expect if we withdraw from Lebanon? The same as will happen if we stay. I acknowledge that the level of fighting will increase if we leave. I regretfully acknowledge that many innocent civilians will be hurt. But I firmly believe this will happen in any event. -John McCain

Wascally Widdle Waverick

Posted by: Jet on March 27, 2008 at 10:39 PM | PERMALINK

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arab_tribes_in_Iraq

A list of 150 tribes.

Posted by: Jet on March 27, 2008 at 10:45 PM | PERMALINK

I'm rooting for a Tribe Called Quest.

Just so y'all know - Bud Light burns when it exits via the nose.

Posted by: Blue Girl, Red State on March 27, 2008 at 11:02 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin, could you please blog about something *important*?? These acronyms are just chess for people like you who sit in a chair all day and think they're fighting a war. You're not. Such intellectualism is extremely off-putting. Focus on what matters--poverty, hunger, living without health insurance, the price of gas, losing your home. Get out of your head and wise up.

Posted by: Tom Y on March 27, 2008 at 11:07 PM | PERMALINK

"Special groups" = rogue elements of the Mahdi Army...

Those would be the ethically handicapped?

Posted by: has407 on March 27, 2008 at 11:11 PM | PERMALINK

It looks like we are starting to encounter some really gnarley waves again in our 5-year shit-surfing adventure there. Who busted the barometer!...

Posted by: Doc at the Radar Station on March 27, 2008 at 11:12 PM | PERMALINK

These acronyms are just chess for people like you who sit in a chair all day and think they're fighting a war. You're not. Such intellectualism is extremely off-putting. Focus on what matters--poverty, hunger, living without health insurance, the price of gas, losing your home.

You do realize that a disproportionate number of the enlisted ranks join the military for those very economic reasons you just listed, right?

Posted by: Blue Girl, Red State on March 27, 2008 at 11:12 PM | PERMALINK

Tom Y, sometimes I have trouble picking up sarcasm in comments....was that sarcastic? Don't you think it's important to understand the dynamics of Iraq?

Posted by: Joe on March 27, 2008 at 11:14 PM | PERMALINK

Maliki is the head of the Da'wa party, he's allied with the SCIRI/whatever-they're-called-this-week party which is headed by Hakim.

Da'wa was implicated in the bombing that killed 200+ marines in Lebanon (you'll often hear that Hezbollah did it, but Hezbollah didn't even exist in 1983). But we installed their leader in power anyway.

Posted by: Joe Buck on March 27, 2008 at 11:15 PM | PERMALINK

Tom Y: Focus on what matters--poverty, hunger, living without health insurance, the price of gas, losing your home.

I'm sure many Iraqi's would second that.

Posted by: has407 on March 27, 2008 at 11:39 PM | PERMALINK

Who's who? Who cares? The important question is: whose side are we on? Once we figure that out, it's absolutely critical that we stay the course for 100+ years and win this thing! Damn retreatocrats.... The next six months will be critical.

Posted by: upchuck on March 27, 2008 at 11:53 PM | PERMALINK

George W. Bush = W (stands for "waterboarding") = Dick's Bitch = the Decider = the Commander Guy = the Butcher of Baghdad = the Kakistocrat of Katrina = Mission Accomplished = the Torturer of Guantanamo = Renderer to the dreaded Black Sites = the Crusher of Congresses = the Defender of Schaivo = the Fucker of Fallujah = First Son of Barbara Bitch Bush, Fat Wrinkled Corpse = The one whose sperm provides sustenance to the 30 percenters = the 89 IQ President = The Man Who is Changing the Face of the Middle East with Birth Pangs and Death Throes...

Posted by: cbtlover on March 28, 2008 at 12:12 AM | PERMALINK

Joe "...Don't you think it's important to understand the dynamics of Iraq?"

Of course it is. Pay attention. Doc at the Radar Station just gave us the surf report.

"Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgment. For even the very wise cannot see all ends." - Gandalf the Grey

Posted by: daCascadian on March 28, 2008 at 12:25 AM | PERMALINK

Kevin, you forgot the strictly criminal clans without political leanings who control some of the ports and oil transport.

Posted by: Tilli (Mojave Desert) on March 28, 2008 at 12:27 AM | PERMALINK

Oh, sorry, that should've read "with flexible political..."

Posted by: Tilli (Mojave Desert) on March 28, 2008 at 12:29 AM | PERMALINK

Cernig: So again --- why was this attacked launched with what looks to be massively insuffucient force levels on the part of the Iraqi Army?

Recent rumors are that Maliki went to Basra not only as a show of force, but to personally oversee the campaign. If that's true--and Gawd help us if Maliki has decided to play general--it might explain the cluster-fuck.

In any case, I can't believe Maliki would have stuck his foot in it unless he had some guarantee that the US would be there to come to the rescue--if it really did go in the pot. A demonstrable failure by the ISF in Basra would be hard to spin; success with US backing would be much easier to spin.

Posted by: on March 28, 2008 at 12:31 AM | PERMALINK

Sorry, that was has407 posting @12:31 above.

Posted by: has407 on March 28, 2008 at 12:32 AM | PERMALINK

Nothing like being rolled up in barbedwire. Every move, every breath and YOU bleed from more and more places. Damned if YOU do, Damned if YOU don't, but either way WE are damned. Pick one, any one, and hope WE don't bleed to death BEFORE WE get loose.
OT: Call Nancy 1-202-225-0100, DEMAND IMPEACHMENT. George and Dick got US here, with OUR help, but they won't get US out. We are on our own with that chore.

Posted by: Mike Meyer on March 28, 2008 at 12:38 AM | PERMALINK

Imagine you are a historically unpopular lame duck president who desperately wants a war with Iran but has zero credibility. You have a puppet regime in Baghdad that owes its existence to the continued presence of US troops. It is being challenged by Shia militia in Basra.

I don't know about you, but I might have my puppet declare war on those militia, then wait a few days, produce some Iranian made weapons, accuse Iran of trying to overthrow the elected government of Iraq and use it as a pretext to bomb Tehran.

And, right on cue:

"Mr. Bush also accused Iran of arming, training and financing the militias fighting against the Iraqi forces."

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/03/2.../28iraq.html? hp

Posted by: Newton Minnow on March 28, 2008 at 12:45 AM | PERMALINK

On cue? U.S. Armor Forces Join Offensive In Baghdad Against Sadr Militia

The clashes suggested that American forces were being drawn more deeply into a broad offensive that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shiite, launched in the southern city of Basra on Tuesday, saying death squads, criminal gangs and rogue militias were the targets. The Mahdi Army of cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, a Shiite rival of Maliki, appeared to have taken the brunt of the attacks; fighting spread to many southern cities and parts of Baghdad.

Maliki decided to launch the offensive without consulting his U.S. allies, according to administration officials. With little U.S. presence in the south, and British forces in Basra confined to an air base outside the city, one administration official said that "we can't quite decipher" what is going on. It's a question, he said, of "who's got the best conspiracy" theory about why Maliki decided to act now.

Hmmm... might be some truth there if Maliki went off half-cocked playing General. But I find it hard to believe there wasn't some discussion when Cheney visited.

And al-Maliki's actions are exactly the sort of "a strong and decisive leader, beset by criticism, yet true to principles and willing to do what is necessary" nonsense Bush, Cheney, et. al. would likely go for. And having screwed the pooch at home, they are now living vicariously through al-Maliki. Wonderful.

Posted by: has407 on March 28, 2008 at 1:18 AM | PERMALINK

Yes, it's shi'ite against shi'ite, but that misses the point. It's actually pro-Iranian with American support Quislings against pro-Iraqis. How are them apples?

Posted by: SteinL on March 28, 2008 at 3:36 AM | PERMALINK

CEPR (Dean Baker) at the bottom of the list? Dean Baker is a genius (and a brilliant writer). No wonder he writes a blog called "Beat the Press".

Posted by: reason on March 28, 2008 at 4:14 AM | PERMALINK

Maliki's puppet government forces attacked Sadr's peaceful protests against U.S. involvement, which now threatens the peace that Sadr's cease fire has brought..... ahhh errr I mean surge.

Posted by: Bill on March 28, 2008 at 9:15 AM | PERMALINK

For some well informed background on what may be happening see:

http://abuaardvark.typepad.com/abuaardvark/2008/03/another-theory.html

http://www.historiae.org/sawlah.asp

http://arablinks.blogspot.com/

All of these sites have numerous posts on the issues in play. Worth spending some time for those interested.

Posted by: G Hazeltine on March 28, 2008 at 10:51 AM | PERMALINK

anti-U.S. = populist/working class orientation

That is why the US government is trying to murder al Sadr.

Posted by: Brojo on March 28, 2008 at 12:35 PM | PERMALINK

So is the Mahdi Army Al Qaeda, or do they fall under the auspices of "Special groups"? I'm sooo confused.
Bush recently said we took Baghdad back from Al Qaeda...who knew?

Posted by: Stagger Lee on March 28, 2008 at 3:30 PM | PERMALINK

No mention of the vaunted Kagan-O'Hanlon family platoons??

Posted by: Hedley Lamarr on March 28, 2008 at 5:47 PM | PERMALINK

OK, but which one's are the "islamofascists".

Posted by: Mark in Butte on March 28, 2008 at 7:23 PM | PERMALINK

can't stand how they always refer to muqtada as the anti-american cleric
must be the same as calling afghani freedom fighters => anti-soviet counter-revolutionaries
or the wolverines => anti-columbian rebels

patriotism to one's country is a strong suit, no ??
trying to get rid of the occupiers of their country, what a concept

Posted by: tofubo on March 28, 2008 at 7:29 PM | PERMALINK

Well, this was going to be a "just" war; in the sense that it was just Iraqis who would get killed, maimed, wounded, have their homes destroyed, etc.

Posted by: gzuckier on March 31, 2008 at 4:09 PM | PERMALINK

Note that we got down to comment number 48 or so before anybody even mentioned al Qaeda.

So Iraq is not all about al Qaeda after all? Of course it’s not, it never was, there is zero reason to think it ever will be, and we should never forget it. A long line of people have been willing to totally lie and bullshit this issue, including most recently General Pretaeus, and on a major scale.

Can your average American Iraq war supporter speak intelligently regarding the terms Kevin uses in this post? Do such supporters have some special insight regarding all these groups? Can they even begin to justify spending dozens (sometimes hundreds) of lives each week along with two or three billion bucks?

Oh yes, these are very smart, honest, diligent people, these war supporters.

Posted by: little ole jim on May 4, 2008 at 9:35 AM | PERMALINK




 

 

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