U.S. Armor Forces Join Offensive In Baghdad Against Sadr Militia
Things are not going well for Prime Minister Maliki.
By Sudarsan Raghavan and Sholnn Freeman
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, March 28, 2008; Page A01
BAGHDAD, March 27 -- U.S. forces in armored vehicles battled Mahdi Army fighters Thursday in Sadr City, the vast Shiite stronghold in eastern Baghdad, as an offensive to quell party-backed militias entered its third day. Iraqi army and police units appeared to be largely holding to the outskirts of the area as American troops took the lead in the fighting.
By JAMES GLANZ and STEVEN LEE MYERS
Published: March 28, 2008
BAGHDAD — American-trained Iraqi security forces failed for a third straight day to oust Shiite militias from the southern city of Basra on Thursday, even as President Bush hailed the operation as a sign of the growing strength of Iraq’s federal government.
Four U.S. Stryker armored vehicles were seen in Sadr City by a Washington Post correspondent, one of them engaging Mahdi Army militiamen with heavy fire. The din of American weapons, along with the Mahdi Army's AK-47s and rocket-propelled grenades, was heard through much of the day. U.S. helicopters and drones buzzed overhead.
Journalists are practicing actual journalism. In addition to "a Washington Post correspondent" an "Iraqi employee of The New York Times, driving on the main road between Basra and Nasiriya, observed numerous civilian cars with coffins strapped to the roofs, apparently heading to Shiite cemeteries to the north."
They are also directly saying that Bush is full of it. From the Post
As President Bush told an Ohio audience that Iraq was returning to "normalcy," administration officials in Washington held meetings to assess what appeared to be a rapidly deteriorating security situation in many parts of the country.
To me the interesting news is that un-named administration officials are very eager to argue that this was all al Maliki's idea
again the Post
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.
In Basra, three rival Shiite groups have been trying to position themselves, sometimes through force of arms, to dominate recently approved provincial elections.
The U.S. officials, who were not authorized to speak on the record, said that they believe Iran has provided assistance in the past to all three groups -- the Mahdi Army; the Badr Organization of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, Iraq's largest Shiite party; and forces loyal to the Fadhila Party, which holds the Basra governor's seat. But the officials see the current conflict as a purely internal Iraqi dispute.
Some officials have concluded that Maliki himself is firing "the first salvo in upcoming elections," the administration official said.
"His dog in that fight is that he is basically allied with the Badr Corps" against forces loyal to Sadr, the official said. "It's not a pretty picture."
I wonder if they are thinking of dumping al Maliki. It would be a way to restore the cease fire, and it's not like he has such great accomplishments so far. Recall he became prime minister because of the support of the Sadrists who opposed Adel Abdul-Mahdi of then SCIRI (now ISCI) who they considered to be too pro-Iranian.
My personal guess is that Bush is too mentally rigid to make such a shift. Also al Maliki is not likely to resign quietly and a vote of no confidence could get out of hand (wouldn't want to have to send Strykers into the parliament building would we).