Cat’s Out of the Bag: Onwards to Maysan
Well I guess enough people are openly discussing this now in Baghdad that it’s okay for me to write about it. Mind you, all the following is classified under the category of gossip:
The Iraqi Army and the Marines are preparing for a major campaign against Mahdi Army and Iranian targets in Maysan Province (‘Amara). Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki may even put the entire elected leadership of ‘Amara—many of whom are Sadrists—out of a job, by flexing his authority under emergency powers. There is even talk of air strikes against military targets—weapons depots, transportation vehicles and individuals—on the Iranian side of the fence; these are targets that are arming and otherwise supporting the Special Groups throughout Iraq.
Iran’s logistics trail goes from Maysan through southern Babil/Hillah Province (al-Hamza) and from there into central Iraq, i.e. Baghdad. There’s another route also going from Maysan into Qurnah and then onto Basra. The southern route has been effectively crippled. And the last stretch of the northern route that used to take weapons from south-western Baghdad all around to Sadr City has also been shut down.
Mind you, the information is murky and sometimes contradictory. For example, it seems that Iran has denied entry to several top ranking Special Groups and Mahdi Army commanders that only a few months ago Iran was playing host to. As a consequence, there’s been a glut of high-level and mid-level Sadrists bidding their time in Amara.
Now, Maysan is a weird place: even after draining the marshes in the early 1990s, Saddam could not claim full control of the province. And ever since the late 1980s, Iran’s Revolutionary Guards has maintained forward bases deep inside Iraqi territory, such as ones around the town of Al-Mijerr al-Kabir. Iraqi opposition groups were active in these areas right up to the fall of the regime. Furthermore, Iran had a large recruiting pool among Marsh Arab refugees who lived in camps almost right across the border.
The talked-about airstrikes would take out forward Iranian border stations that have recently been moved into Iraqi territory, especially around oil fields. Then there are weapons depots of rockets, advanced RPGs and assorted weaponry right near the border (…on the Iranian side, though) that are on the target list, as well as buildings and Iranian individuals involved in facilitating logistics for the SGs, also on the Iranian side.
Although this has gone largely unreported, but US airstrikes were busily taking out Iranian trucks smuggling arms through Maysan within the first three weeks after Operation Cavalry Charge. I’m not sure, but some Iranian citizens may have been killed as a result. The new target list is a stepped-up extension of this bombing trend. It would also break the taboo over launching bombing runs against nuclear and terrorist facilities deeper into Iranian territory.
Of course, this is all still in “preparation” phase. It is unclear whether the Iraqis and Americans will go through with all or any of it. And given that it’s all out in the open, it could be US PSY-OPS to scare the Iranians away from backing the SGs.
But arrest warrants for Maysan officials are being prepared, and intelligence is being gathered about other Sadrist leaders who have gone into hiding there.
I expect the battle for Maysan to be difficult: this would be Iran’s last stand in Iraq. The fighting would also be occurring on topographical and human terrain that the Iranians have been studying and cultivating for decades. It could start incrementally, and the ante could be raised as the operation faces increased resistance, eventually leading to bombing runs inside Iran.
But then again, Sadrist morale is very low—even with all the squeaking and squawking we’ve been hearing from the press—and the Iranians seem unwilling to confront an outgoing American president itching for a parting shot.
It should be noted that the vast majority of Sadrist support in Baghdad and Basra comes from families that trace their roots to Maysan Province. Furthermore, Maysan is home to the largest concentration of Iraqi tribes with unknown Arab ancestry—most likely remnants of pre-Islamic ethnic groups and whatever was left in the wake of rebellions by black slaves and gypsies in ‘Abbasid times.
In other news, I have a couple of big projects that I need to finish (…I think regulars at TG will like them when they’re finally done) so blogging will be light until further notice.