Operation Cavalry Charge (Updated)
Yes, I've been a bad, bad blogger and even this post was hastily written. Forgive me already and read on:
Here’s a prediction: the Iraqi Army’s military operation in Basra will be a spectacular win against disorder and Iranian influence.
Today, the Iraqi Army launched its first major military operation to fully control Basra, the second largest city in Iraq, without any—ANY—Coalition assistance. One source tells me that during the preparation phase of this campaign the Americans offered to position some U.S. Special Forces and air-cover near the Basra battle theater to act as back-up if needed but their Iraqi counterparts planning this operation politely turned down the offer.
This is Operation ‘Cavalry Charge’, which is the best translation I could come up with for صولة الفرسان.
Its chief objective is to flush out the organized crime cartels that control the port of Basra and the oil pipelines of the province. One major criminal force in the Basrawi scene are groups that affiliate themselves with the Sadrist movement and its Mahdi Army. Many of these criminal rings are also associated with certain factions of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard that operate in Basra both for intelligence/sabotage purposes as well as enriching themselves. By knocking out these egregious manifestations of lawlessness, Operation Cavalry Charge will have the accrued benefit of mashing up the more subtle patterns of Iran’s malignant influence in Iraqi Shiism’s foremost economic prize, the oil fields and port of Basra.
But is this how this story is being reported by the US and Arab media? Of course not!
The dominant false narrative du jour goes something like this: the Sadrists are angry over a number of things (arrests, political wrangling with the Hakim family and the Da’awa Party, etc.) so they decided to back away from Sadr’s seven-month ‘ceasefire’ (a term invented by the western media as a deliberately wrongful translation of تجميد وإعادة هيكلة جيش المهدي: “freezing and restructuring the Mahdi Army”) by staging ‘civil disobedience’ (…such as shutting down primary schools and shops by threatening teachers, students and the middle class) but things quickly deteriorated into the perpetual cycles violence that these journalists and pundits are mentally wedded to and have staked their thin expertise on predicting as Iraq’s inevitable fate.
If little old me had known about Operation Cavalry Charge a month ago then it stands to reason that the Sadrists and the Iranians had heard about it too. In fact, it was supposed to start a week ago, but got delayed allegedly because Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim got cold feet. However, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki forced the issue and flew down to Basra a couple of days ago (media reports said he got in yesterday; I was told something else) to personally oversee his boldest move yet: demonstrating that he’s got the gumption to use Iraqi security resources to battle Shia militias and crime cartels and take back Iraq’s vital economic nerve-center, all without appealing for American help and in a direct challenge to Iranian objectives.
If he wins—and I predict that he will—then he’s holding on to the prime minister’s seat from here until the 2010 elections. That will be the new political reality (…there are other factors favoring his continued candidacy for the job) that all the other political actors in Baghdad must acknowledge and acquiesce to. In effect, Operation Cavalry Charge will also speed up the formation of a new, more agile coalition cabinet and override the current state of political paralysis because any fantasies of removing Maliki would be laid to rest.
Interior Minister Jawad al-Bolani (…an ex-Sadrist fellow-traveler) and Defense Minister Abdul-Qader al-Obeidi will also stay in place after staking their careers on this operation; they too are with Maliki in Basra.
Why now? Maliki has sent 50,000 Iraqi soldiers to deal with about a dozen criminal cartels. Militarily, this will be an easy fight. Those counseling caution and delay stressed that smashing Sadrist-related criminal cartels would spark a large-scale Sadrist reaction across Iraq at a time when the Bush administration wants to keep Iraq quiet especially with the ‘4000’ milestone that was being approached and got passed a couple of days ago. Another argument against action counseled that the Iranians are angling for a fire-fight to sully any talk of progress that Gen. Petraeus may give in a couple of weeks when he appears before Congress, and that the Democrats and their allies in the US media would take these images out of Basra and elsewhere and package the news as a “security meltdown” (…which they would and have done so, irrespective of reality).
Maliki decided that he doesn’t give a damn about US presidential elections and that the only timeline that concern him are Iraq’s own upcoming elections. Maliki also concluded, from intensive intelligence reporting, that the Sadrists are weak and that Iran doesn’t really have much punch to its supposed influence in Iraq. That’s why he decided to go for it.
Muqtada al-Sadr knows fully well that should a third all-out confrontation erupt between forces associated with him on the one hand and U.S. and Iraqi government troops on the other, then it can only end with his death, arrest or the much more unlikely prospect of escape to Iran from which he won’t return to Iraq for a very, very long time—Muqtada really doesn’t like being in Tehran from what I’ve heard.
One well-placed source claims that al-Sadr is lashing out at his inner circle and crying out “You’re going to get me killed! You’re going to get me killed!” I cannot gauge the veracity of this account, but this source had in the past accurately corroborated accounts from al-Sadr’s inner sanctum given to me by a fully trustworthy source (now deceased).
This is the weakest that the Sadrist movement has ever been: they are divided, their leader is absent, some answer to Iran, and affluence has made them slothful and soft. Sadrist leaders today are bejeweled with agate rings, Rolexes and precious worry beads, and sport Turkish-tailored suits. They ride around in the latest-model armored SUVs and have taken their second (…and third, and fourth, and…) wives—in some cases the ultimate Iraqi Shia male status symbol, a Lebanese Shia trophy wife. They have access, through the ministries and governmental departments that they landed in the coalition cabinet, to lucrative contracts with unlimited avenues for corruption of all kinds. These were the same angry, dejected men that one would meet in 2003 wearing polyester dishdashas with sweat-stained towels around their necks. Nowadays, they have plenty more to loose should the all-powerful, all-munificent state turn against them.
The 30 member Sadrist bloc in parliament that rode into power as part of the Shia ‘Alliance’ list is loud, boisterous and periodically stages walk-outs. But they never resign, because to do so would mean that they’d forgo their USD 12,000 a month salaries plus all the other perks such as immunity from arrest that come with being an MP.
Politically, too, the Shia middle class no longer sees a need to tolerate Sadrist hoodlums as the shock troops of the Shia sect in case a civil war breaks out with the Sunnis because that threat has long receded and is essentially forgotten, by both sides.
These are the changed circumstances of the Sadrists; they no longer have the appetite for a bruising fight as they did in the spring and autumn of 2004. It has become much more difficult as the Iraqi state is now associated with Shia power (…and wealth transfer) and the vast majority of Shias, who’ve grown wiser about these things, don’t want to see this historic achievement imperiled in any way.
If that’s the case, then why the scenes of shooting today? Why the mortar attacks on the Green Zone? Well, the ones shooting back in Basra and elsewhere fall into two groups: organized crime cartels and the Iranian-managed Special Groups.
It should be a no-brainer as to why crime cartels don’t favor a stronger security environment but because the Iraq debate is dominated by intellectual frauds and posers (…I’m looking at you, Marc) then maybe I should explain this one as a situation similar to that of how Colombian and Mexican cocaine cartels fight central authority either directly or by funding ‘revolutionary’ movements such as FARC.
The Special Groups are a different story. I’ve written about them in my columns and on this blog and don’t have the energy to get into all that again, but I’ll just say this: the Special Groups have been a disastrous investment for the Iranians. The Revolutionary Guard have poured plenty of money and training into this endeavor yet it remains very easy for US and Iraqi intelligence to infiltrate the SGs and round them up. Not only that, but some SGs seem to have been flipped and have collected information on Iranian intelligence activities beyond Iraqi territory.
Oh heavens, but this is so pathetic: the US media is falling all over itself in trying to describe today’s clashes in the worst possible light, which is just the usual thing they do whenever they can, but it has been harder to squeeze in the Iraq story in recent months because the American public has tuned out.
So, this is what the news consumer gets: something’s going on with the Sadrists, and everyone is keeping their fingers crossed that this is it; this is the moment when Iraq re-descends into chaos and it can again be called a “quagmire”, and terms like “Iraq is lost” and “no one can stop this civil war” are brought back into vogue. I can see a certain Brisbane native snorting ‘happy power’ up his crooked nose in early celebration.
I hope that keeping those fingers crossed will give them arthritis.
Remember the time when Maliki was bad-mouthed for being soft on the Sadrists and the dominant false narrative of the time had it that he owed his political power to them? I wonder what all the experts who parroted this claim would have to say about Operation Cavalry Charge and Maliki’s role in it?
That’s the problem with most ‘professional’ Iraq-watchers: they still can’t grasp that dramatic changes have taken place over the course of the last two years since the Samara shrine bombing and hence they can’t understand that the Iraqi government can actually gather around a bunch of divisions and give them the order to clean-up Basra, without America’s involvement.
They’ll get carried away with exaggerations of the Baghdad-Bob variety such as the rumor that the Sadrists had taken 17 American soldiers prison along with 400 Iraqi officers.
This is what happens to featherweights whenever a gust of hot air rushes by.
Hey, I’ve never shied away from a gamble: any battle could turn on a dime, but I think that these clashes were never a battle to start with so I’d don’t think I’m speaking too early when I predict victory for Operation Cavalry Charge. Maliki is going to win this one; good for him and good for Iraq.
UPDATE, Wednesday, March 26, 2008:
Operation Cavalry Charge in Basra is going much better than anticipated; solid leadership coupled with a much-diminished enemy is harvesting very quick results.
Here are the key points on Day 2 of the operation:
-The word from Hayyania, one of Basra’s most populated and poorest neighborhoods, is that the situation is calm and under control. The Iraqi Army has taken up positions in the main thoroughfare while the criminal gangs and the Sadrists seem to be sitting this one out—they’re not engaging the government troops and are instead keeping a low profile.
-Both the Army commander of Operation Cavalry Charge, Lt. Gen. Mohan Hafidh al-Freiji, and the police commander, Maj. Gen. Jalil Khalaf al-Muhammadawi, are very able commanders and brave men, with al-Muhammadawi, an ex-tank officer in the Iraqi Army, tending towards brutality. He’s also helped by the fact that he can draw upon important tribal relations in the all-important Albu-Muhammed tribe of nearby ‘Amara Province.
-The Iraqi Army is operating with the utmost restraint which reflects their good training and new ethos; this in not the Saddam-era Army whose first instinct is to level rebellious neighborhoods to dust. Maliki has given the criminal cartels 72 hours to “come out with their hands over their heads”—this is not a ‘battle’, it’s rather a law-enforcement stand-off.
-The Iraqi Army holds the British Forces cowering behind barbed wire in Basra Airport in the lowest regard; the Iraqis hold the British responsible for dropping the ball in Basra and in Amara, allowing the crime cartels to expand and take root. Iraqi officers regularly dismiss the British military as “sissies” and “cowards”. The Americans have never had a military presence in Basra since the war began in 2003.
-Many parts of Baghdad where one would assume the Sadrists could potentially be troublesome such as Husseiniya, Bunook, ‘Shia’ Ghazaliyya, and Washash experienced no acts of violence. The places where there was limited violence and tension were Sadr City, Baya’a, and very sporadically in al-Shu’la. In fact, most of the people who I’ve spoken to throughout the day, many of whom were out and about travelling across wide swaths of Baghdad, seemed surprised that the situation was that calm. Traffic was sparse and dozens of mortars rained down indiscriminately—one near the Salhiyya Apartments, most directed at the Green Zone—but otherwise the overall situation was stable with the Iraqi Army and Police in control.
-The Sadrists can only keep the shops and schools closed through intimidation, including spraying some shop owners with gunfire in the Bab al-Shargi neighborhood. But it is also interesting that one form of intimidation taken by Sadrist activists has been to take photographs of shops that have remained open despite the call for a strike. This sort of behavior indicates that although the Sadrists may not be able to anything about this defiance now, they’ll remember these scabs and settle these accounts later. This shows weakness.
-The radically Sunni al-Sharqiyya TV (owned by Saad al-Bazzaz, who in recent years has financed his media conglomerate with monies from the dethroned ex-ruler of Qatar, the Barzanis and the U.S. Department of State) is curiously propagating and amplifying Sadrist (…maybe Iranian) psyops. What’s even funnier is that al-Sharqiyya’s bogus reporting is looping back into western reporting on the situation in southern Iraq. It seems that news of the situation in the provinces of Diwaniyya, Kut and Hillah have been widely exaggerated by al-Sharqiyya and consequently by certain western media outlets that are pretending to be covering the story when what they’re really doing is taking questionable reporting by an openly hostile TV station and passing it on to the western news consumer as original and objective reporting.
-Ahmad Chalabi is trying to reconcile the Sadrists with Maliki. No word on whether Maliki is receptive to this overture.