Apparently, Nouri al-Maliki doesn’t read American newspapers to determine whether his offensives against the Mahdi Army have succeeded. While our reporters managed to a person to get the story in Basra wrong, Maliki lined up a broad political coalition to issue an ultimatum to Moqtada al-Sadr — disarm or face the consequences. Maliki has now stepped up the consequences in Sadr City, Sadr’s main base of support, with a complete commitment of military forces against his militia:
Shiite militants fought U.S. and Iraqi forces around Baghdad’s Shiite district of Sadr City early Saturday, despite a call for calm by anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr after the assassination of one of his top aides.
At least 13 Shiite militants died in the clashes, which erupted Friday night and tapered off early Saturday, the U.S. military said. Iraqi police reported seven civilians were killed as a result of the fighting between American and government troops and al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army militia. …
In Sadr City, a U.S. military statement said American soldiers used Abrams main battle tanks and drone-fired Hellfire missiles in support of troops who came under sniper and rocket attack while trying to erect concrete barriers in the area.
Two armored vehicles were damaged by at least 10 roadside bombs that exploded during the operation, but there were no casualties among the U.S. and Iraqi soldiers, the military said.
The AP continues its clueless reporting at the end of the article, saying that Maliki’s operations in Basra “quickly faltered” after he began them. While the Mahdis put up a stronger fight than expected, it didn’t “falter” at all. Within days Sadr sued for peace, and this report notes that Maliki has a second operation under way to mop up the Qibla district and wipe out the stragglers.
The “quickly faltered” meme sounds suspiciously like the “American invasion bogged down in the desert” analysis that occurred in week two of the 2003 invasion. It’s the result of an attention-span deficit in the media. Rather than wait for an outcome, journalists draw conclusions from the first hours of a battle. Major military actions take longer than a single news cycle.
Maliki’s aggressive action in Sadr City shows that he has confidence that he can maintain pressure on Sadr and the Mahdis. If Iraq is to have provincial elections, the central government has to control security in the provinces, and Maliki has six months to make that happen. He also needs to cut off Iran’s influence in the south, which has primarily come through Sadr. With Sunnis, Kurds, and other Shi’ites supporting him, Maliki has an opportunity now to rid Iraq of the Mahdis, the last significant militia in independent operation.
And so far, it appears he is succeeding. It may take weeks to finish the job, but Maliki slowly will use the Iraqi Army to take back Sadr City block by block, if necessary. The elected government of Iraq has no choice but to do this at some time if its sovereignty is to be taken seriously.