Basra – Cheney’s Reward to Oil Pal al-Hakim
Basrah Update Midday March 25 2008 — There is very heavy fighting in the city. The streets are almost empty of civilians and civilian traffic. All our correspondents in the city say there are many columns of smoke in the city and the sounds of explosions and machine gun fire. One local source in the teaching hospital says that many have been wounded. He said also that they are having to turn away wounded for treatment because there are too many to treat. He says he has been told that it is the same in other hospitals”
It’s easy to be confused by news from Iraq especially given our own media’s refusal to provide coverage beyond Petreaus propaganda. Today’s reports of fighting in Basra are not the easiest to follow but let’s look at several facts that suggest what may really be going on.
Since August 2007, Moqtada al Sadr has established a cease fire and held back his forces from attacks but he has never denied their right to self defense. This cease fire is the primary cause of decreased casualties in Iraq. At the same time, Green Zone and US forces have continued attacks on al Sadr’s forces and Sadrist neighborhoods as noted in al Sadr’s recent statement:
Despite the ceasefire, Mahdi Army members are being subject to raids by the "occupiers" and Iraqi forces which are "destroying Iraqi houses," Sadr’s statement said.
"Iraqis in general and Mahdi members in particular are paying the price."
Al Sadr has been one of the strongest players working for a nationalist coalition, opposed to the occupation and uniting Iraqis across sectarian lines. In fact, al Sadr’s sermons and announcements have often reminded Iraqis of their national unity and the role of the occupation forces in creating and enflaming sectarian strife.
An important meeting and initial agreement was announced in Arabic press yesterday:
organized by the Sadr organization, [the meeting] included 300 tribal leaders, Shia and Sunni, from throughout Iraq…Among the main points in the final statement of the meeting: A demand for scheduled withdrawal of the occupation forces from Iraq; and a statement to the effect the foreign forces are responsible for the internal divisions that have plagued Iraq since the invasion.
The first Iraqi tribal conference wound up its proceedings on Sunday, in Kadhamiya, Baghdad, with the issuance of a final statement that demanded a schedule for the withdrawal of foreign forces from Iraq, and commitment to the return of those removed from their homes, and compensation for their damages.
The participants committed to the rejection of terror in all its forms, and to the combating of the AlQaeda organization throughout Iraq, in addition to serious work toward the return of those displaced…
With upcoming provincial elections likely to show serious losses for both Maliki’s Dahwa party and Hakim’s SIIC and growing support for Mahdi associated representatives, it’s not surprising that Cheney and our occupation allies were deep in talks last week – nor is it surprising that we now see a dramatic push by green zone forces on Basra where Sadrist forces had been gaining power where Hakim’s SIIC used to have considerable power.
With Maliki personally overseeing a green zone force of 15,000 or more, supported by air strikes (US or British is not known), a major attack has been launched in Basra and the results so far are chaos, growing civilian casualties, and curfews have now been imposed on six provinces.
At the same time US forces have surrounded Sadr City:
Eyewitnesses said that U.S. forces surrounded Sadr city on Tuesday’s afternoon, closed all city’s inlets, and replaced Iraqi forces inside the city.
Eyewitnesses also said that sounds of discontinuous gunfire and explosions are heard at different neighborhoods of the city.
Power went off at some parts of Sadr city, while people there rushed to buy foodstuff preparing for security deterioration.
One of the eyewitnesses told VOI "U.S. forces allowed four firefighting trucks and three ambulances to enter the city."
He added "People are afraid that U.S. forces may conduct wide-scale attacks and raid operations in the city."
"Instructions arrived from the al-Shahid al-Sadr (Martyr Sadr) office in Najaf on Tuesday to give out copies of the Qur’an and olive branches to soldiers at checkpoints in Baghdad and its districts," the spokesman, who asked not to have his name mentioned, told Aswat al-Iraq – Voices of Iraq – (VOI).
Sadrist officials called on Monday for an open-ended civil disobedience, which has already begun in the western Baghdad neighborhoods of al-Shurta, al-Bayya, al-Amil, and al-Risala. A spokesman for the Sadrists in al-Karkh, Mazen al-Saadi, had told VOI on Monday that sit-ins began in some areas in Karkh and would move to other areas in Baghdad’s al-Rasafa as well as other provinces if the demands to release the detained Sadrists and have an official apology from the government on these arrests and raids were not met. "There would be other options if the government failed to respond to these demands," said Saadi, not determining the nature of these "options."
"Sunni Muslims took part in the protest in solidarity with the Sadrists, whose neighborhoods are targets for detentions and raids," a local resident of al-Aamil neighborhood said.
Back to Cheney’s visit – he reported gained agreement from al Hakim for provincial elections, elections in which Hakim’s SIIC is expected to do poorly given popular support for al Sadr. As Badger writes today:
These are two of the famous Bush "benchmarks": Oil and Gas Law, and progress toward provincial elections. In the case of Barzani and the Oil law, the quid pro quo was obvious. But what was the quid pro quo for the Supreme Council? One possible–I would say obvious–answer now suggests itself: In exchange for the Supreme Council dropping its obstruction of the Provincial Powers law, the US would tolerate, and provide air-support for, a campaign against the Sadrists in the Basra region.
The gains for George and Dick are clear – weaken or distract those pesky nationalist forces, justify continued troop surge and presence, gain "approval" of US benchmarks (though not popular approval) and keep control of Iraqi oil in the hands of men like Hakim.
Dick visits Iraq and cuts a deal – and the people of Iraq once again pay the price.
Big H/T to Badger at Missing Links
Video from Channel 4