Saturday, March 29, 2008

Fight for Basra: Decisive and final battle…or ongoing stalemate?

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki says Basra is a "decisive and final battle.'' He is vowing to remain there overseeing operations against the Shiite Mahdi Army until security by the central government in the city is restored. However, the escalating civil war is making the political situation more muddled than before and the fighting in Basra and Baghdad seem anything but final. So far, Maliki’s offensive has only exposed the weaknesses of his government. According to the London Times:
Maliki had flown to Basra to take personal control of the military operation. But instead of sweeping to a decisive victory with American guns at his side, he was stumbling into something that looked dangerously like stalemate yesterday.

Having originally imposed a 72-hour deadline for rebels to hand in their weapons, he was forced to extend it until April 8. Yesterday he vowed to remain in Basra until the resistance was crushed. “This is a decisive and final battle,” he said.

Sadr issued an equally robust directive, ordering his fighters to ignore Maliki’s ultimatum.

At stake in Basra was not just the prime minister’s reputation, his prospects for provincial elections this autumn and control of the Iraqi oil fields, but also an entire coalition strategy of reduced troop levels, steady withdrawal and the turning over of Iraqi security to local troops.

If Maliki’s crackdown fails, both London and Washington may have to reassess Iraqi army capabilities and the risk of future disaster if coalition forces continue to withdraw. “This is a precarious situation,” one US official said yesterday. “There’s a lot to be gained and a lot to lose.”

Already this weekend there were reports that police officers and soldiers had left their posts, changed their uniforms and joined the Mahdi Army.

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