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Saturday, October 21, 2006

Mahdi on the move

Militias Battle for Iraqi City as Shiite Rivalry Escalates

Published: October 21, 2006

BAGHDAD, Oct. 20 — Hundreds of militiamen linked to the Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr battled local police and members of a rival Shiite militia in the southeastern city of Amara on Friday, destroying police stations, seizing control of entire neighborhoods and detonating bombs that sent thick pillars of black smoke into the sky.

At one point, the Mahdi Army, Mr. Sadr’s militia force, appeared to be in control of the eastern half of the city of about 250,000, close to the Iranian border. But after a day of negotiations involving representatives of the warring militias, and delegates from the Baghdad offices of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, Mahdi Army gunmen withdrew from their positions, and by nightfall the city was under the control of an Iraqi Army battalion that had been dispatched from Basra, officials and residents said.

The clashes, pitting fighters linked to Mr. Sadr against members of the Badr Organization, the military wing one of the country’s leading Shiite parties, exposed the deep fissures in the country’s Shiite leadership and cast doubt on the ability of the ruling Shiite coalition to hold itself together. It also underscored the weaknesses of the Iraqi security forces and the potency of the Mahdi Army, which has been able to operate virtually unchecked in Iraq and is widely accused of propelling the cycle of sectarian violence that has pushed the nation to the brink of civil war.

With the battle for the city erupting only two months after British troops withdrew from a garrison on the city’s edge, it raised fresh questions, too, about the ability of the Iraqi government and security forces to maintain order once allied troops are withdrawn.

Reviews of the American strategy in Iraq took on more urgency on Friday, as President Bush held a half-hour meeting at the White House with Gen. John. P. Abizaid, the top American commander in the Middle East. The meeting was the first of several scheduled in coming days with his senior advisers.

The stability of Mr. Maliki’s government in Baghdad depends on a tenuous peace between Mr. Sadr, who controls one of the largest parties in the ruling Shiite bloc, and Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, who leads another, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, and its private army, the Badr Organization. A dynastic rivalry between their families, dating back decades, has carried over into a personal and political rivalry between the men, and their militias have periodically clashed.

A dress rehersal for the Shia-Shia civil war. When they said the police was fighting the Mahdi Army, it was the Hakims vs the Sadrs.

What people don't get, is that there is no Iraqi state. There are factions. And it was frightening to see the unreality of US discussion on the subject.

* Strongman

Unless that strongman is named Moqtada Sadr, that ain't happening. They don't have an army. The Army is factionalized, and serves not their generals, but their militia leaders. So if generals decided to seize power, they would be proxies for a militia leader.

* Partition

The Slip Kid option. Because it would start a civil war immediately. Who would trust the Shia to protect the Sunnis or the Kurds to respect Turkey's territorial integrity?

* Staying

With what Army? The quality of soldiers enlisting has been dropping like a rock and unauthorized absences exploding. The US cannot stay as the Army collapses, it isn't possible. And the Iraqi Army is a figment of our imagination. They fight on their terms for their interests, not the interest of the Iraqi government.

The collapse of the Iraqi society is in full swing. Not state, not army, society. Where people are executed in hospitals, rape is a business and people are their own police.

Bush pretends Iraq isn't turning into the Congo, but it is, and we're watching it and watching it. But there is no Mobutu to step in and do our bidding. Sadr has the bodies to win, if they get trained, or hire the right mix of Bosnians, South Americans and South Asians to overrun the country. Of course, the dead will pile the street in revenge killings, but Bush and if the National Enquirer is to be believed, Condi, will be watching this from the pig farm in Crawford.

posted by Steve @ 12:40:00 AM

12:40:00 AM

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