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Peace offers are for losers

March 31st, 2008

The pro-war blogosphere is full of the news of Sadr’s defeat in the battle for Basra, manifested in his call for a truce, an end to government raids and the release of all prisoners. Here’s a roundup of the links from Glenn Reynolds. Reynolds, who has chronicled Sadr’s decline into irrelevance from 2004 to the present, is a bit more circumspect than he has been in the past, saying “it’s likely a blink, not a major defeat.”, but most of the bloggers he links to are unrestrained in their triumph.

Among the points I’ve picked up, illustrating the magnitude of the victory

* The number of Iraqi police and military who have defected to Sadr has been much exaggerated, and most of them were bad lots anyway

* The body count ratio looks really good

* Attacks on the Green Zone are a desperate fling, easily countered by staying indoors and wearing full body armor at all times

* The proportion of Basra controlled by the Mehdi Army has not increased much since the conflict began

* The proportion of Basra controlled by militias and criminal gangs (approximately 100 per cent) has not increased at all since the conflict began

* Much of the ground lost by the government elsewhere in Iraq has been recaptured

* The fact that the purported basis of the government’s action (an attack on criminal elements peripherally associated with various militias), endorsed by the US, is a transparent fiction, covering an attempt by one set of militias to weaken another, hasn’t worried anyone too much

* Allowing for the necessity of air attacks on densely populated areas, civilian casualties have been modest, ensuring the the popularity of the US and British forces will increase still further

* Maliki is still in Basra, proving the failure of Sadr’s attempts to oust him

But the crucial point underlying all of the argument is, that, simply by offering a truce, Sadr has proved he isn’t winning. After all, peace offers are for losers.

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  1. Lord Sir Alexander “Dolly” Downer
    March 31st, 2008 at 14:23 | #1

    Moqtada wants to make the transformation from militia-man to mainstream politician. He’s probably better than a lot of nutty Shi’ite militias – which ain’t saying much, I know.

  2. March 31st, 2008 at 14:44 | #2

    That’s weird, for years Downer has been telling us that peace offers are for appeasers.

  3. rog
    March 31st, 2008 at 15:40 | #3

    I see this as a sign of confidence of the Iraqi government and by rejecting Sadr (“worse than al qaida”- Maliki) a demonstration of the growing desire for a free Iraq.

  4. rabee
    March 31st, 2008 at 19:54 | #4

    It’s striking how irrelevant we (the West) and anyone who worked for us have become in Shiite politics in Iraq.

    The quick ceasefire between Sader and Maliki was brokered by the Iranian Revolution Guard (a designated terrorist organization). [I guess the question now is can we permanently stop rocket fire targeting the green zone. That would be a real victory for us. Because as far as I can tell that is the only place were we enjoy a measure of sovereignty; what kind of occupation are we running there?]

    A point, however, I saw Sadr’s interview on al-jazeera. He’s articulate and is obviously being coached. He’s also fixed his teeth (well, kind off). Reminds me of when John Howard got a publicist in the 80′s.

  5. James Farrell
    April 1st, 2008 at 08:18 | #5

    This Al Jazeera story (via Juan Cole) shows that the Government has subdued the Mehdi Army so decisively in Sadr City that thye don’t even need their weapons any more.

  6. sjk
    April 1st, 2008 at 11:59 | #6

    Oh that Dolly – he is such a kidder! From djm’s article (it’s a bit old, but whatever):

    “Terrorists in every part of the world, including in our own region, would be emboldened,” Mr Downer said. “We would be inviting the violence ever closer to our own homes.”

    Oh, Downer believes by our actions we’ll invite terrorism on ourselves …

    “Mr Downer launched a broad attack on the “self-loathing” of the left, which he said argued the West had brought terrorism on itself …”

    hehehe. Surely there was no greater tool in the Howard government than Dolly Downer.

  7. ADW
    April 1st, 2008 at 13:54 | #7

    Juan Cole says the peace was brokered by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and a parliamentary delegation from al-Maliki’s own coalition that defied him by going off to the holy seminary city of Qom in Iran. As Cole says, the entire episode underlines how powerful Iran has become in Iraq.
    http://www.juancole.com/2008/03/iran-brokers-call-for-ceasefire-bush.html

  8. wmmbb
    April 1st, 2008 at 14:58 | #8

    “Blessed are the peacemakers”. Therefore, the Iranians are blessed, or perhaps they are more influenced by their own reasons – whatever they might be?

  9. 2 tanners
    April 1st, 2008 at 15:57 | #9

    You have to love it. Does this make Bush’s “Roadmap for Peace” a statement of abject US surrender of its interests in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?

  10. sleet
    April 1st, 2008 at 16:33 | #10

    @James Farrell

    The AlJazeera report was prior to Sadr’s call for his fighters to stay off the streets. I believe there was a whole day of british and US involvement following that report.

  11. rog
    April 1st, 2008 at 16:48 | #11

    Its a win for the fledgling Iraqi government; who wants to be the first to wish them well?

  12. jquiggin
    April 1st, 2008 at 17:20 | #12

    If by “fledgling Iraqi government” you mean the Sadr-Sunni coalition that’s likely to replace Maliki after the next elections (if not before) I guess you could call it a win.

    But starting a war and then ending it with none of his objectives achieved doesn’t look like a win for Maliki, as all the commentary coming out of Iraq confirms.

    Still, support for the war has always required a powerful reality distortion field. Keep turning up the amps!

  13. Ian Gould
    April 1st, 2008 at 17:25 | #13

    Rog – how is failing entirely to achieve any of their objectives a win?

    How is their major rival demonstrating he can throw the country into chaos at a whim and that he controls the loyalty of a large part of the national army and police force a win?

    I guess you consider the Treaty of Versailles a win for Germany.

  14. rog
    April 1st, 2008 at 17:35 | #14

    Stupid analogy – Treaty of Versailles.

    so #12 and #13 is a ‘NO’ for the current Iraqi government.

  15. Ian Gould
    April 1st, 2008 at 18:02 | #15

    Of course I “wish the well”.

    Which doesn’t mean engaging in delusional nonsense about how a massive defeat is really a victory.

    From the start of the Iraq War (which I opposed from the get-go), I’ve argued that the international community and the American public deserve an accurate and realistic assessment of what’s going on there.

    If the Bush administration and their supporters hadn’t engaged in wildly exaggerated stories about the success of the occupation, public support for that occupation might not have collapsed so disastrously.

    But hey you’re right – all those Iraqi soldiers and police who deserted to Sadr’s side during the fighting will now return to duty with a newfound loyalty to the national government. Maliki’s political party ISCI – so riddled by defections in recent days it couldn’t even get a quorum the last time it tried to stage a Parliamentary session – won;t be humiliated by their backdown or the proof that Al Sadr actually runs most of Basra and Baghdad. Sadr’s political party definitely isn;t going to win the upcoming elections.

    Hey, while we’re at it, let’s claim the thousand or so Iraqis who died in the last week of pointless bloodshed will all magically come back to life.

  16. Ian Gould
    April 1st, 2008 at 18:04 | #16

    So Rog do you think the Chinese are about to give Tibet independence?

    If not, why not?

    Don’t you wish them well?

    Why are you secretly hoping they’re going to fail?

  17. Alison A
    April 1st, 2008 at 21:25 | #17

    Muqtada opposed privatisation of Iraq’s oilfields.

  18. James Farrell
    April 1st, 2008 at 21:40 | #18

    That may be so, Sleet. I was just trying to get into the spirit of John’s irony. The surrender may have been completely staged by Sadr’s PR team for all I know.

  19. Jack Strocchi
    April 1st, 2008 at 22:14 | #19

    Pr Q says:

    the battle for Basra

    That is rather over-hyping this series of skirmishes b.w not very good exponents of small arms fire. As Steve Sailer points out, its not exactly the Battle for Stalingrad, is it?

    And to call the Iraq War a civil war is overstating the case. Civil Wars have no more than two sides organised as proper forces with a chain of command. A real civil war looks something like Union V Confederacy (1860-5) or SVN v NVN (1955-75). This martial equivalence drives War Nerd up the wall.

    The Iraq “civil war” is just a bloody mess. No organised forces and no real front.

    In reality there is very little difference b.w war and non-war in the anarchic regions of Southern Asia. Just look at Trashcanistan, Algeria, Lebanon, Palestine, Paki-badlands. Everyone is geared up in local gangs always ready to conduct raids against their neighbours.

    This is very much the way most military conflict was waged throughout most of human pre-history. Hit and run attacks by local gangs.

    Iraq is simply regressing to the pre-historical norm. A lot of people are dying, mostly through vendettas, banditry and civil dislocation.

    But barbaric conflicts have always been more bloody than civil ones. Lawrence Keeley reckons that male mortality in such conflicts approaches 50 per cent:

    In War Before Civilization, Lawrence Keeley, an anthropologist at the University of Illinois, estimates that up to ninety-five percent of primitive societies engaged in at least occasional warfare, and many fought constantly.

    Tribal combat usually involved skirmishes and ambushes rather than pitched battles. But over time, the chronic fighting could produce mortality rates as high as fifty percent.

  20. Ikonoclast
    April 1st, 2008 at 22:22 | #20

    Does anyone think the USA can extract itself from Iraq and the Middle East more generally? That’s not a rhetorical question. I am very interested in what others think.

    I think the USA needs to extract itself from the Middle East (for its own national interest as much as any other reason) but I simply cannot see how it can do it.

    The main obstacles are;

    1. Loss of control (direct and defacto) of M.E. Oil.

    2. Consequent on point 1, the end of the US dollar being the oil-currency of the world.

    3. Consequent on point 2, the collapse of the US currency.

    4. Consequent on point 3 and other major strains, the insolvency of the US Govt and nation.

    5. Also, how can Israel survive without massive US subsidies? (Big lobbies in the US will never want to let Israel fail.)

    Bearing all the above in mind, how can the US extrract themselves? Both staying and leaving (for the US) now look equally untenable to me.

  21. Ikonoclast
    April 1st, 2008 at 22:33 | #21

    And in relation to Jack Strocchi’s post, I must say I have entertained for some time an hypothesis as follows (not tested by any research.)

    If above a certain tonnage of bombs is dropped by a superpower on a “small” country (measured as say tonnes per 10,000 of the total population), then the entire people will essentially be driven into a mass psychosis i.e. crazy. In this state you get a Cambodia under Pol Pot or an Iraq as it is today.

    It seems to me the simple lesson is that big countries should not pound on small countries and drive the unfortunate people in a maddened frenzy of pain, fear and retaliation.

  22. wbb
    April 1st, 2008 at 23:08 | #22

    “Does anyone think the USA can extract itself from Iraq and the Middle East more generally?”

    Yes. At any time it likes.

    Another question.

    Does anyone think the US wants to withdraw its occupation force from Iraq?

  23. Katz
    April 2nd, 2008 at 07:46 | #23

    Its a win for the fledgling Iraqi government; who wants to be the first to wish them well?

    It’s strategic thinking of this quality which has been the hallmark of the US mission in Iraq.

    Al Sadr is the head of the only genuine mass movement in Iraq. Yes, this organisation has a militia, but mostly it is the only effective arm of civil society for the mass of the Shiites.

    Why wouldn’t al Sadr be licking his lips at the prospect of October elections? Why wouldn’t Maliki and the Bush Clique (for distinctly different reasons) attempt to destroy the Sadrists as a political organisation?

    This desperate effort has failed miserably. If you want an historical parallel, try the July Days in 1917 Russia.

    Kerensky, fresh from the disaster of the June Offensive, saw belatedly the threat of Bolsheviks. He unleashed his military on the Bolsheviks in an attempt to destroy them. He succeeded in driving several Bolshevik leaders, including Lenin, into hiding. But the party had put down strong roots in the Russian organised labour movement. The next democratic moment, October 1917 elections for the Supreme Soviet, were an electoral triumph for the Bolsheviks.

    Al Sadr already had a mass movement before the US arrived. The US helped al Sadr to ethnically cleanse Iraq.

    The coming elections are going to be very ugly for Maliki and the Bush Clique.

  24. Ikonoclast
    April 2nd, 2008 at 07:57 | #24

    wbb, your answer makes me laugh. It’s like saying a man hung up in tangled coils of razor wire can get down anytime he likes. Yes, maybe he can. But every manouvre of extraction is going to be excruciating.

  25. rog
    April 2nd, 2008 at 08:12 | #25

    Sadr is heading a band of militias and having lost badly surrendered.

    Sadr losses include the support of Iran and the Iraqi parliamentary Shiite bloc (who say its a law and order issue) and he is now officially regarded as a terrorist.

  26. Alan Kennedy
    April 2nd, 2008 at 09:05 | #26

    Puzzled by this thread;is it supposed to be ironic? The idea of Maliki coming out a winner is not supported by the facts. He had to broker a deal with the Mahdi army and reports I have read say…… Iraqi lawmakers traveled to the Iranian holy city of Qom over the weekend to win the support of the commander of Iran’s Qods brigades in persuading Shiite cleric Muqtada al Sadr to order his followers to stop military operations, members of the Iraqi parliament said.

    The Qom discussions may or may not bring an end to the fighting but they almost certainly have undermined Maliki – who made repeated declarations that there would be no negotiations and that he would treat as outlaws those who did not turn in their weapons for cash. The blow to his own credibility was worsened by the fact that members of his own party had helped organize the Iran initiative…
    So what is the story?

  27. Katz
    April 2nd, 2008 at 09:23 | #27

    Sadr is heading a band of militias and having lost badly surrendered.

    Shorter Rog: “I don’t understand the Sadrist movement at all.”

  28. O6
    April 2nd, 2008 at 10:48 | #28

    The UK government today announced a delay in pulling troops out of Basra, if I heard the Scotch Defence Minister on the 7am ABC FM news correctly. This is clearly a further sign that ‘we’ are winning in Irak?

  29. Ian Gould
    April 2nd, 2008 at 17:59 | #29

    Rog: Sadr is heading a band of militias and having lost badly surrendered.

    The Maliki government initiated the fight by demanding that the Sadrists hand over their positions and their weapons.

    The Maliki government achieved absolutely none of its objectives.

    What did the Sadrists “surrender” they kept their positions, maintaining effectively control of around 80% of Baghdad and all of Basra, they kept all their weapons and the mass defections of Iraqi troops and police (along with their weapons) may well mean they’ve come out even stronger than before.

    As for SAdr leading “a band of militias” he also leads a political movement that controls several provincial governments; is one of the largest parties in the Federal Parliament and controsl several national Ministries.

    Plus upon the death of Grand Ayatollah Sistani he’s probably posed to take effective (if not nominal) control of the Shai religious heirarchy.

    To quote from this week’s Time magazinr:

    http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1726763,00.html

    “The Iraqi military’s offensive in Basra was supposed to demonstrate the power of the central government in Baghdad. Instead it has proven the continuing relevance of anti-American cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. Sadr’s militia, the Mahdi Army, stood its ground in several days of heavy fighting with Iraqi soldiers backed up by American and British air power. But perhaps more important than the manner in which the militia fought is the manner in which it stopped fighting. On Sunday Sadr issued a call for members of the Mahdi Army to stop appearing in the streets with their weapons and to cease attacks on government installations. Within a day, the fighting had mostly ceased. It was an ominous answer to a question posed for months by U.S. military observes: Is Sadr still the leader of a unified movement and military force? The answer appears to be yes.

    That apparent authority is in marked contrast to the weakness of Iraq’s Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki. He traveled south to Basra with his security ministers to supervise the operation personally. After a few days of intense fighting he extended his previously announced deadline for surrender and offered militants cash in exchange for their weapons. Yet in the cease-fire announcement the militia explicitly reserved the right to hold onto its weapons. And the very fact of the cease-fire flies in the face of Maliki’s proclamation that there would be no negotiations. It is Maliki, and not Sadr, who now appears militarily weak and unable to control elements of his own political coalition.

    Sadr, in fact, finds himself in a perfect position: both in politics and out of it, part of the establishment and yet anti-establishment. Despite the fighting, he never pulled his allies out of the government or withdrew his support from Maliki in Parliament, which he could have done. Nor did he demand that all his followers leave Parliament and work outside the current political system. He has kept his hand in as a hedge.

    Sadr has proven increasingly adept at politics. Last summer, he ordered his hand-picked ministers out of Maliki’s cabinet after the Prime Minister refused to demand a timetable for withdrawal of U.S. troops. To the public, it looked like he was taking a principled stand against the occupation. But the boycott did nothing to dilute his influence in the government. All the ministries his party once headed are still staffed to the gills with his followers, who continue to create jobs for other loyalists and operate Sadr’s growing political machine. Sadr is, in addition to being a military force, a source of political patronage.”

    If that’s a victory for Maliki, I’d hate to see a defeat.

    At this point, Sadr has pretty much demonstrated he can withstand anything except a direct full-scale ground offensive by US forces – which isn’t going to happen.

    He’s also in a position to probably become the leader of the largest political party in Parliament after the next elections, due in a few months time.

    AT this point, he pretty much just has to sit still and wait for two things to happen – the Americans to leave and Sistani to die.

    Expect the Americans to switch to trying to reconcile him now, because they have no realistic alternative.

  30. rog
    April 3rd, 2008 at 10:16 | #30

    There is a lot of opinion on this and nothing is very clear; if Sadr had continued fighting a split in the Shia bloc would have developed yet his men were provoked by Maliki.

    Sadr has reidentified himself as a leader of the rogue elements – this may go against his band come election time. Maliki is no saint either but somehow the govt must win – rogue elements and militias plague Iraq. One thing is clear – the withdrawal of the British troops led to instability in the still weak central government.

  31. Katz
    April 3rd, 2008 at 11:05 | #31

    Sadr has reidentified himself as a leader of the rogue elements – this may go against his band come election time. Maliki is no saint either but somehow the govt must win – rogue elements and militias plague Iraq.

    “Rogue element”?

    You can see from this reference that the Sadrists make/made up the biggest single bloc in the government alliance (if compensatory seats are not taken into account).

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

    Simply put Maliki cannot pass any contentious measure through Parliament unless the Sadrists agree to it.

    And Sadr’s parliamentary influence can only grow.

    The Sadrist movement isn’t going away. If Iraq is to be governed by parliamentary democracy, then Sadrists will help to determine the future of Iraq.

    But that’s a big if…

    Of course, the fate of South Vietnam’s Ngo Dinh Diem, assassinated in 1963 with a CIA nod and a wink, may be the fate of any leader, including Maliki, who may cosy up too much to the Sadrists.

    Whom does Maliki fear more, Sadr or Bush?

  32. sleet
    April 5th, 2008 at 01:18 | #32

    Maliki’s credibility seems to wane with every day that passes since this incident began.

    “Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki has ordered a stop to all operations against “people who carry weapons” in the country. This comes a day after he promised to continue to pursue criminals and outlaws in all provinces.”

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/7330033.stm

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