The big news is the al-Sadr’s “Stand Down” —more accurately termed Maliki’s “climb down” follow this link or click the image below to see the original text of al-Sadr’s declaration. There will be plenty of statements and counter statements and a lot of misinformation especially in the Western media and the pro-government Iraki media. This is my “take” on the matter.
Text of the declaration:
Based upon our responsibilities under the law [shariah] and for the sparing of Iraki blood and for the protection of the reputability of the Iraqi people, and for their unity both in terms of people and in terms of territory, and in preparation for its independence and liberation from the armies of oppression; and in order to put out the fires of fitna which the occupier and his followers wish to keep burning between Iraki brothers, we call upon the beloved Iraki people to measure up to their responsibility and their cognisance of law in sparing bloodshed and preserving peace in Irak, and its stability and independence.
The following is resolved:
- Ending armed manifestations in Basra governorate and all the other governorates.
- Ending of attacks and illegal arbitrary detentions.
- Demand that the government apply the law on general amnesty, and release all prisoners who have not had charges confirmed against them, in particular prisoners belonging to the Sadrist current.
- We announce that we will repudiate those who carry weapons and target the government and service agencies and institutions, or the offices of political parties.
- Cooperation with government agencies to bring about security and to charge criminals, according to due process of law.
- We reassert that the Sadrist movement does not possess heavy weapons.
- Efforts [meaningful efforts are to be made] for the return to their residential areas of those who were forced out as a result of security incidents.
- We demand respect for human rights by the government in all of its security activities.
- Working [meaningful efforts are to be made] towards the realisation of development and service projects in all governorates.
The first thing that must be said is that these are exactly the same demands that al-Sadr has been making for months. He reiterated them again when the fighting started. Maliki has been forced to accept every single one of them. I wonder how he managed to delude himself that the spectacularly misnamed “Saulat al-Forsan” (Charge of the Knights) would succeed.
Basrah is the country’s economic lung and the Mahdi army, the Badr Brigade, and Virtue (Fadhila) party all have a heavily armed presence there. Politically it is arguable whether it is the Virtue party or the Sadrists who are likely to do best in the forthcoming elections both are likely to do very well indeed, the SIIC is unlikely to do well, they will be lucky if the retain and significant presence.
The Mahdi Army was well-prepared:
The Mahdi army took the lessons of recent events to heart. Since the fighting in Karbala followed by further recent operations to reduce if not eliminate, their presence the Mahdi army have been digging in and preparing a defense in depth in Basrah. They plainly also planned to interdict the arrival of reinforcements for GZG troops once the fighting which everyone could see was coming got underway. They succeeded in their goals:
- They successfully prevented attempt after attempt after attempt to retake the Qurnah bridge.
- Far from being dislodged from their strongholds they successfully carried out a very difficult military operation — a tactical retreat under heavy fire to ready prepared defensive positions.
- They successfully counter-attacked repeatedly.
During several of those counter-attacks they captured and/or destroyed heavy weaponry from GZG forces they also on several occasions cut off and then destroyed attacking forces.
We can now confirm that in regard to al Taminmiyah the reports from residents in this earlier posting “Other residents report that GZG troops attempted an incursion and are now trapped there are similar reports from Zubair and al-Ashar“turns out to have been no more than the truth and that the same is true of Zubair and al-Ashar.
The GZG defense minister admitted that his forces were unprepared either for the ferocity with which the Mahdi army fought or for the sophistication of much of their weaponry. Nor were they prepared for the combination of a simple refusal to fight by many of the soldiers coupled with wholesale defections.
That was not all they were unprepared for. The South erupted. That is a dramatic way of saying that the Mahdi Army successfully opened a number of new fronts in the fighting, Nasiriya, Karbala, Hilla, Diwaniyah, and Kut all saw very fierce fighting. Apart from the benefit to its fighters in Basrah there was the added benefit of reducing the pressure on its fighters in Karbala. They successfully seized Kut – they remain in control of that city for the moment, and in Nasiriyah, Dawa’s heartland, they not only seized ground they laid siege to the governor in his palace and the large number of GZG troops who were protecting him. Every time those troops tried to effect a breakout they were easily beaten back. Desperate negotiations ensued before the final Mahdi army assault, and the governor remains alive, and under siege, – for now.
As to what happens next on these secondary fronts it is hard to tell. My guess, and it is no more than an educated guess, is that the Mahdi army will gradually cede partial control of Kut and the other cities once the local GZG authorities demonstrate good faith. The problem of course lies in those two words “good faith” – at no point have Dawa and SIIC ever done so and I find it difficult to believe GZG officials loyal to those parties will do so now. I hope to be proved wrong in this but I am not optimistic. The fact that operations by GZG forces are continuing in several places including in Basrah makes me even less optimistic.
Let us get back to what we know instead of guesswork. It is clear that the GZG was also unprepared for the ferocity of the fight back in Baghdad. The Mahdi army not only were not dislodged they succeeded in gaining territory and will not lightly give it up. A measure of how desperate the situation was the GZG in Baghdad can be found in the fact that they had to massively reinforce Karrada and prevent all access to Kazhimiya. They had to get the Americans to help them besiege Sadr city. They lost badly in al-Shula. Baghdad did not see the wholesale defections of Basrah but there were enough of them including among elite units – army and police, to make the GZG military leadership very doubtful of their men.
Another measure of GZG desperation is that they used peshmerga forces in Basrah (and in Baghdad). I find it hard to find the words to describe how thoroughly hated the Peshmerga regiments have made themselves in the central and southern governorates. They see themselves as entitled to exact every piece of revenge they possibly can at every possible opportunity and do so. This may be understandable but it is very bad tactics.
What happens next? I do not know. But on past performance we can expect a lot of chest thumping from the GZG and from the Americans. We can also expect a lot of “incidents” of varying severity from the GZG side – probing attacks in other words.
What of Maliki – the man whose arrogance and disastrous lack of judgement has drastically weakened the GZG. What will happen to him?
Who cares …
Saba Ali Ihsaan,