Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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May 6, 2008
By: Kevin Drum

IRAN AND IRAQ....From Ned Parker of the LA Times:

Abu Baqr, now a commander in the Mahdi Army militia of cleric Muqtada Sadr [...] still hates Iran. But now, he said, he accepts its weapons to fight the U.S. military, figuring he can deal with his distaste for the Iranians later. So he takes bombs that can rip a hole in a U.S. tank and rockets that can pound Baghdad's Green Zone without apology or regret.

....The attitudes of commanders such as Abu Baqr would seem to confirm U.S. accusations of Iranian meddling in Iraq. Although the extent of their relationship remains unclear, the commanders have embraced a hardened stance that may bode ill for the U.S. military.

I think that's the hat trick: In the past two days all three of the big national dailies have written stories about Iran supplying arms to the Mahdi Army. Quite a coincidence, no?

Of course, Iran probably is supplying arms to the Mahdi Army. But they've been doing that for a long time, and they also provide support to the Badr Organization, which is allied with the Iraqi government. So why the sudden spate of stories sugesting that Iran supports only the Mahdi Army, and implying that its support is increasing? There are two options, I guess: (a) because it's true or (b) because it's in somebody's interest to feed this storyline. It's pretty much impossible to say which is more likely, though.

Kevin Drum 11:53 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (35)

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What's interesting is that Iran doesn't seem to be going through the Mahdi Army chain of command. They seem to be supplying commanders directly. The policy seems better designed to undermine Sadr's leadership than prop him up.

Posted by: fostert on May 6, 2008 at 12:11 PM | PERMALINK

So if we discover that JAM is using US-made weapons given to the Iraqi army, is this evidence that the US supports them?

Posted by: jhm on May 6, 2008 at 12:12 PM | PERMALINK

I can't be the only person to have noticed this, but just in case let me point out that the fighting in Sadr City now is a direct product of the Iraqi government offensive against the Sadr organization last month in Basra, an offensive evidently undertaken without extensive consultation beforehand with the American command in Baghdad.

Contrary to some early reports, government forces appear to have attained most of their objectives in Basra. But Sadr's power base has always been in Sadr City, and American troops are now bearing the brunt of dealing with his militias there. Given that these militias can shell the Green Zone from Sadr City, and in the wake of the Basra offensive certainly would continue to if not physically prevented from doing so, the American army has little choice but to try to move the militias back, even though this involves the deadliest kind of urban warfare -- something that the American army has sought to avoid in Baghdad for years.

The point here is that the talk now emerging of an Iranian role supporting militias now opposing American troops is taking place in the context of fighting that resulted from Iraqi government, rather than American, decisions. That elements of the Iranian government are involved in some way I have little doubt. I'm more concerned about this issue being used as a tool of spin control by an American command that allowed itself and its troops to be used by its nominal Iraqi allies.

Posted by: Zathras on May 6, 2008 at 12:13 PM | PERMALINK

It's pretty much impossible to say which is more likely, though.

Uh, call me crazy, but I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that option B is wildly more likely. I say this because I have retained in my memory the statements and actions of this administration over the past 7 years. What have they done that you would give them the benefit of the doubt?

Posted by: IMU on May 6, 2008 at 12:25 PM | PERMALINK

It's a done deal we're instigating some sort of hostilities with Iran. Bushco figures there'll be the typical rally to the warriors before the election and it'll help McCain. The Dem nominee will be put on the spot, support the troops or you're a traitor. The build up to war will whip people into the same fervor we saw in 2002. It may be moderately muted, possibly more cautionary. Still, Obama either maintains the same line he professes to have had before the current war or he gets on board. Naysaying a fight with (allegedly Iranian trained) ruthless terrorists killing our boys over there will be a losing stance. Pretty tough to finesse in the middle of October, 3 weeks before an election. Yeah, no doubt we're going into Iran in some fashion. There's nothing but upside for Republicans and downside for Dems if it happens, at least in the short term. And short term is all Bush cares about. It can go to hell starting the second week in November but they'll have their boys in the White House. Couple more SCOTUS slots filled. A few more trillion shoveled to the one percenters. Go ahead, pencil it in.

Posted by: steve duncan on May 6, 2008 at 12:31 PM | PERMALINK

"It's pretty much impossible to say which is more likely, though." - I suppose Kevin is being sarcastic?

Speaking of convergence of media: On Charlie Rose last night, I saw ex-Bush operative Meghan O'Sullivan shamelessly giving props to Maliki for having the gumption to fight al Sadr's "Iran-backed" Shiite militia, despite Maliki being a Shiite etc. Of course she didn't admit that the Badr Corps and SCIRI are closer to both Iran and Maliki than Sadr is, who is actually more of a true Iraq nationalist as we are supposed to be supporting. (And REM the issues with Chalabi, etc.)

Charlie, so often in the faces of his guests, never batted an eye. He should have know better and challenged it.

Posted by: Q on May 6, 2008 at 12:32 PM | PERMALINK

bearing the brunt

The Shiite civilians of Sadr City are bearing the force of weapons deployed by the US military. Americans can easily avoid rocket attacks in the Green Zone by leaving Iraq.

No one really knows what is going on in Iraq, especially US journalists. That does not prevent editors and publishers of large, regional editorial monopoly newspapers from repeating W. Bush talking points.

Posted by: Brojo on May 6, 2008 at 12:32 PM | PERMALINK

This is off topic, but Norman has an incredible rant about radiation crazed wolves on his blog today.

Definitely worth a read, while waiting for the polls to close in IN and NC.

And leave a comment!

Posted by: optical weenie on May 6, 2008 at 12:37 PM | PERMALINK

I vote for option B.

Norman has banned me.

Posted by: thersites on May 6, 2008 at 12:41 PM | PERMALINK

The sad thing is that when you are dishonest with the American people, they tend not to believe you. For seven years Bush/Cheney have consistently lied to us about Iraq. It is hard as hell to believe anything they say at this point.

Has anybody considered what is going to happen if we do attack Iran? Oil prices are going to shoot through the roof. It is possible that if the Iranian war isn't over in a real hurry (and when has this administration proved to be diplomatically adroit) the world economy is going to dive into the greatest economic downturn since the great depression. Of course, Halliburton will do well and Dick Cheney will retire rich beyond his wildest dreams. Nancy Pelosi will kick herself all across the San Francisco Bay for taking impeachment off the table.

Posted by: Ron Byers on May 6, 2008 at 12:46 PM | PERMALINK

It sounds entirely plausible to me that the Iranians are supplying whoever they can with weapons and training at least so fighting will continue, and so the US will consequently look bad in the broader Muslim community and elsewhere internationally when we're not able to "fix" Iraq with our strongman routine.

The military and the administration are probably frustrated by this, feel like it's not "fair," and feel that they'd be able to quiet Iraq if it wasn't for the Iranian influence. There is really no standard as to what is "fair" for you to encounter when, acting from mixed motives, you dethrone a dictator from a very dangerous country and then, applying sort of lackadaisical methods, try to pacify the country. But if the question is whether the world and the American people should denigrate the American military and adminstration for not pursuing the occupation properly, the answer is sort of like a saying from sports- how does it go? You have to play with the referee you get or something?

Point being, of course Iran could have been expected to interfere like this, and of course the military and the admin were asking to win the lottery if they expected Iran wouldn't try to mess with us this way. So it's not cool for the military to shrug their shoulders and say "It's not our fault."

That explains why there has been so much subtle sabre-rattling against Iran- the military and the admin are probably thinking that if they can just scare Iran into withdrawing this interference, Iraq will clear up and then the Republicans will look better.

I've been wondering why the military and the admin don't explain all this (of course, omitting the political angle, which is what you'd expect). But now that I think it through, it's probably just because once everyone who hears it thinks it through, it will be all too easy for them to come to the same conclusion I came to: it's not cool for the military to look at the Iran interference, shrug theirs shoulders, and say, "It's not our fault"- these people basically got us and our troops into a two-for-one guerilla war versus Iraq and Iran, and they tried to pawn it off as a cakewalk. Now we're getting killed and it ain't stopping, no matter what we try. I call foul on you, Bushies.

Posted by: Swan on May 6, 2008 at 12:49 PM | PERMALINK

Are we to assume that a and b are mutually exclusive?

Posted by: Brian on May 6, 2008 at 12:52 PM | PERMALINK

What is obvious is that the US occupation is more dreaded that Iran, the historical enemy of Iraq since before the common era.

Posted by: captain dan on May 6, 2008 at 12:58 PM | PERMALINK

Swan: But if the question is whether the world and the American people should denigrate the American military and adminstration for not pursuing the occupation properly

The Administration? Absolutely fucking yes.
The Military? If you mean those in the upper echelons who knew better, but went along with this clusterfuck to protect their pensions? Yes. Yes. Yes.

Posted by: thersites on May 6, 2008 at 1:10 PM | PERMALINK

This is close enough to ask again, here:

I wonder about "hidden" casualties: We hear that n number of soldiers were killed on any given day. But suppose some of those wounded one day die 5 days later, how is that reported in the news? I don't remember hearing e.g., "three US troops died today near Sadr City, and two others also died today from injuries received last week" etc. Who is keeping track of those casualties for us to check on?

Posted by: NB on May 6, 2008 at 1:13 PM | PERMALINK

Note that Bolton has been calling for strikes against training camps in Iran, linked from Drudge today.

Posted by: Q on May 6, 2008 at 1:15 PM | PERMALINK

"(a) because it's true or (b) because it's in somebody's interest to feed this storyline. It's pretty much impossible to say which is more likely, though."

Regardless of whether it is true or not, (b) is probably true. If it were NOT in the US administration's interest to feed the storyline, then we still wouldn't be hearing it. True or not.

It doesn't require overt government control of the media to effectively steer the information stream. As we've seen.

Posted by: flubber on May 6, 2008 at 1:18 PM | PERMALINK

Yeah, I mean the commanders, but you can throw in guys who beat up, rape and kill random Iraqi prisoners, while you're at it, too.

The Abu Ghraib prisoners make all of us look bad, besides the wrongness of their crimes.

Posted by: Swan on May 6, 2008 at 1:18 PM | PERMALINK

calling for strikes against training camps in Iran

They're going to spoil that gas-tax-holiday spirit. And I've already started my shopping, too.

Do you suppose that either of our potential Presidential candidates could take a break from f*cking silliness and act like legislators?

Posted by: thersites on May 6, 2008 at 1:20 PM | PERMALINK

The Abu Ghraib prisoners make all of us look bad, besides the wrongness of their crimes.

Oops, that should have been about the guards who abused the prisoners, not about the prisoners. Talk about a low-quality human being. Those guys are only a rung above the slime who attacked us on 9/11, if that, even.

Posted by: Swan on May 6, 2008 at 1:20 PM | PERMALINK

For the excellent journalist Nir Rosen, who has spent the last five years on the ground in Iraq has this to say:

Salah al Ubaidi, Muqtada al Sadr's spokesmen recently admitted that his movement was not getting along with Iran. Iran had helped them in the past but accounts of large Iranian arms shipments were "greatly exaggerated." Muqtada refused to be a slave to Iran he said, implying that other Iraqi Shiite leaders were. In fact Mahdi Army members in Iraq have taken to blaming the actions of their more notorious members on Iran, adopting a position similar, if disingenuous, to that of Iraq's Sunnis. Al Ubaidi also recently denounced Iran, accusing it of sharing control of Iraq with the Americans and criticizing Iran for not objecting to the long term security deal the Americans and Prime Minister Maliki are working on, to make the American military presence a permanent one.

There is no proxy war in Iraq, because the US and Iran share the same proxy and the US installed that proxy and empowered it. Today, to the extent that we can talk about an Iraqi "state," it is dominated by the Supreme Council and its Badr militia. The Sadrist movement of which the Mahdi Army is a loose militia is also the largest humanitarian organization in Iraq, providing homes, security, rations, clothes and other services to hundreds of thousands of Iraqis. It is a complex movement and certainly is as guilty of crimes as all the other groups that took part in the Iraqi civil war, including the Americans.

Posted by: bellumregio on May 6, 2008 at 1:22 PM | PERMALINK

In the interests of completeness, you ought to update this post with a link to Juan Cole today, where he addresses the notion of "even if it's true, and we can't know one way or the other, how significant is it?" As it stands, your conclusion is too quick and easy without considering Juan Cole's point.

Posted by: John Raymond on May 6, 2008 at 1:29 PM | PERMALINK

Well, here's a good rule of thumb for news stories. Does McClatchy have the story? If it's just the NYT and the LAT and someone else (USA Today or some shit), then I'd go with Option B by a industrial strength mega-mile. Seems the kids at McClatchy have this ability to actually investigate charges, either validate or invalidate them, then provide some kind of actual context to the information.

It's kuuuuhhhh-razy, I know. But until McClatchy has it, it ain't worth worrying about.

Posted by: The Critic on May 6, 2008 at 1:33 PM | PERMALINK

The political solution in Iraq has always been to marginalize the largest and poorest group, the Shiites, for the benefit of the other more powerful factions. Sunnis, secular businessmen and Iranian backed Shiites may be cooperating with US authority to continue the historical political and economic discrimination against Iraq's largest and poorest group for their own enrichment and political gain.

Posted by: Brojo on May 6, 2008 at 1:38 PM | PERMALINK

Don't ever forget that the CIA has mock "journalists" embedded at many of the nation's media outlets and they routinely "plant" stories to influence gullible Americans, many of whom are ignorant, knuckle-dragging conservatives.

Google "Operation Paperclip" if you don't believe me....

Posted by: The Conservative Deflator on May 6, 2008 at 1:41 PM | PERMALINK

I'm sure many high-ranking conservative military and political figures would like to attack Iran, too, but they can't now-- primarily because it's not a good option practically for the military, which has to focus on two other theaters that already require a lot, before it opens that can of worms, and secondarily, because perhaps the response of a military expedition on Iran will look disproportionate to the international community, especially if Iran's interference just doesn't look as clearly substantiated-- or as extensive-- as we'd like it to be to justify an attack within their borders. The conservatives want a war with Iran, but you just don't start a war to depose a country's leadership over illegally running small amounts of small arms into a country. The conservatives want the whole thing, the regime change and everything, and the interference in Iraq doesn't justify that yet.

Posted by: Swan on May 6, 2008 at 1:58 PM | PERMALINK

"Regardless of whether it is true or not, (b) is probably true. If it were NOT in the US administration's interest to feed the storyline, then we still wouldn't be hearing it. True or not."

Yay, flubber!

Posted by: Quaker in a Basement on May 6, 2008 at 2:08 PM | PERMALINK

Swan,

You seem to be channeling Cheney and friends. What upside do the neo-cons think they derive from a war with Iran? Do they see any downside? Are they all dumber than sticks?

Posted by: Ron Byers on May 6, 2008 at 2:49 PM | PERMALINK

....The attitudes of commanders such as Abu Baqr would seem to confirm U.S. accusations of Iranian meddling in Iraq.

If Iranian Shiites supplying arms to neighboring Iranian-allied Iraqi Shiites is "meddling," then what exactly is it that we're doing there? And what about Iranian accusations of American meddling in Iraq?

Really, aren't editors on the look-out anymore for these sorts of loaded words?

Posted by: Stefan on May 6, 2008 at 3:11 PM | PERMALINK

Stefan Stefan Stefan,

How many times must I tell you? Since we are doing God's work then everything we do is good and everything done to us is bad. I don't know how much clearer I can make this.

what exactly is it that we're doing there?

God's work.

Posted by: Tripp on May 6, 2008 at 4:05 PM | PERMALINK

God's work.

The strong abusing the weak is always divine.

Posted by: Brojo on May 6, 2008 at 4:31 PM | PERMALINK

This is scary:

http://www.mcclatchydc.com/251/story/35931.html

2 soldiers' deaths in Iraq raise doubts about MRAP vehicle
By Nancy A. Youssef | McClatchy Newspapers

* Posted on Monday, May 5, 2008


Military to buy MRAPs for use in Iraq.

MCT

MRAPs for use in Iraq. | View larger image

WASHINGTON — The deaths of two U.S. soldiers in western Baghdad last week have sparked concerns that Iraqi insurgents have developed a new weapon capable of striking what the U.S. military considers its most explosive-resistant vehicle.

The soldiers were riding in a Mine Resistant Ambush Protective vehicle, known as an MRAP, when an explosion sent a blast of super-heated metal through the MRAP's armor and into the vehicle, killing them both.

Their deaths brought to eight the number of American troops killed while riding in an MRAP, which was developed and deployed to Iraq last year after years of acrimony over light armor on the Army's workhorse vehicle, the Humvee.

Posted by: Neil B. on May 6, 2008 at 5:57 PM | PERMALINK

Ron Byers,

I don't know what you mean by I'm "channeling" them, but then you go and contradict the proposition that they would want a war with Iran. If you're claiming that by saying they want a war with Iran I'm channeling them, then you're being self-contradictory when you characterize them as not possibly wanting that, no?

Anyway-- the sabre-rattling from all the conservative corners is all too great, I think, for it just to be a tactic to try to help us cool down things in Iraq. It was going on before all this concern about Iran helping the militias was being aired, too. The least the neocons want is to not look horrible, via Iraq turning out better. But the cherry and icing on the cake would be if they could, by their sabre-rattling, provoke Iran into doing something more dramatic- like an unambiguous military excursion into Iraq. Then, the response would be something like a cruise-missile aimed at the leaders of Iran, I'd bet. Then, when Iran was in chaos, they'd feel they finally had their excuse to leave Iraq, and they'd quit on it (3/4 of our troops there, or so) the way John McCain or Newt Gingrich quit wives, for a chance at a rosier success story.

More fundamentally than a better p.r. campaign, why would they want this? The same reasons they wanted Iraq, I guess- to get the control or exploitation of the country's oil closer under the hands of themselves and their oil-industry friends.

Posted by: Swan on May 6, 2008 at 6:08 PM | PERMALINK

Just to be totally clear, I think they'd like to occupy Iran. Or, that was the idea they've been in love with for a while. But who knows if they've re-thought it since then, and current sabre-rattling really is now limited to getting Iran out of Iraq? I'll allow that. They do of course hold their cards close. Even though they've been so reckless before, it's possible they could have learned to be more prudent, and decided that trying to take on Iran is just too much of a risk of failure.

Posted by: Swan on May 6, 2008 at 6:13 PM | PERMALINK

Several months ago, General Petreaus was asked whether the US had actually intercepted any arms being smuggled into Iraq. His answer was none from Iran & only one shipment from Syria. I have not heard of him stating otherwise since.

So - If Iran is smuggling arms to insurgents in Iraq, our troops are spread too thin to actually find them & stop the smuggling. If we can't even see, much less stop the arms smuggling, then how in Hell are we supposed to engage in still another war in yet another country & expect to come up winning? Short answer, Not.Gonna.Happen.

So, A, who knows? B, Take it to the bank. And C, try asking better questions.

Posted by: bob in fla on May 6, 2008 at 8:47 PM | PERMALINK
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