Friday, April 4, 2008

In backing the Basra assault, the US has only helped Sadr

The tacit promotion of Shia civil war has left the militias stronger and fuelled scepticism about the much-hyped surge

By Jonathan Steele
The Guardian, Friday April 4 2008

"......Iraq's prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki - who ordered the assault and put his prestige on the line by supervising it in person - has emerged with his authority severely weakened. His army and police took a battering and failed to capture any ground, with several commanders and units going over to the Sadrist militias they were meant to be defeating. And the Bush administration's effort to portray Iraq as a place that is gradually calming down thanks to the "surge" of an extra 30,000 US troops looks far less convincing to an increasingly sceptical US public.......

President Bush described last week's fighting as a "positive moment in the development of a sovereign nation that is willing to take on elements that believe they are beyond the law". In reality, it amounted to US support for the promotion of a Shia civil war. There are depressing similarities with US policy in Palestine, where the US is arming and financing Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah movement against Hamas instead of working for Palestinian unity......

The most likely explanation is that the Americans approved the assault, confidently expecting it would succeed within a few days. The hardline US vice-president, Dick Cheney, was in Baghdad two weeks earlier and may well have urged Maliki to go ahead. They hoped for a triumph to boast about in Congress. Now they must explain a disaster......

That is why last week's assault on Basra was particularly foolish. Instead of using Sadr's original ceasefire constructively to engage him in political dialogue, American officials joined Maliki in trying to break Sadr's movement. The lesson of the past few days must be that this policy is doomed. Sadr is a major player who cannot be marginalised or defeated. He has widespread popular support, not just because of his socially conservative Islamist message, but because of his nationalist credentials. These have been strengthened by last week's failed assault. It should not be repeated."

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