Monday, April 9, 2007
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By MARTIN SIEFF
UPI Senior News Analyst
"WASHINGTON, April 9 (UPI) -- After four years of war, 3,200 American deaths, 23,000 U.S. troops wounded and possibly in excess of 100,000 Iraqis killed, U.S. policymakers are now making what may prove to be their worst mistake yet: They may be on a new collision course with Moqtada al-Sadr.
U.S. forces backed by Iraqi troops were reported Saturday in fierce clashes with Sadr's Shiite Mahdi Army militia in a bid to wrest control from it of the southern Iraqi town of Diwaniyah.
There is a considerable amount of tactical justification for U.S. forces to clash with Sadr's forces now, especially in Diwaniyah. With a U.S. air strike against Iran's nuclear facilities widely expected in the region, U.S. forces may want to suppress, cripple or intimidate Sadr's militia -- the most pro-Iranian and anti-American of all the Shiite paramilitary groupings in Iraq -- as a preemptive measure.
Also, if Sadr's forces and other allied Shiite groups were to attempt to cut crucial U.S. supply lines from Kuwait and the Persian Gulf up to the main concentration of American forces in Iraq in and around Baghdad, it would also make sense to Pentagon planners to secure Diwaniyah along one of the crucial supply routes first.......
We wrote then, "Although Sadr is extremely anti-American, like other Shiite politicians he realizes that currently the U.S. forces in Iraq are committed to wiping out his main long-term enemies, the Sunni Islamist forces. Therefore he has remained on the sidelines in the current struggle in Baghdad. This has given U.S. forces the chance to cooperate in limited but effective ways with various Shiite militias."
But we also cautioned, "If the United States launches major air strikes against the nuclear facilities in neighboring Iran, then Iran's Revolutionary Guards look certain to use their massive clout with the Mahdi Army, and with other Shiite militias, to get them to cut off cooperation with U.S. forces in Iraq and to attack the Americans instead.......
And if other Iraqi Shiite groups, especially those controlled by the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, were to rise up and attack U.S. forces in retaliation for any U.S. air strikes against the Iranian nuclear facilities, then Sadr almost certainly would not hesitate to order a general uprising against U.S. forces, if he knew that this time he was not alone, but part of a far broader and more formidable Shiite coalition.
On March 12 we warned, "U.S. strategies for Iraq and neighboring Iran are therefore chaotically entangled already, and even on a collision course." The latest fighting in Diwaniyah unfortunately confirms the continuing accuracy of that assessment. "