Despite the news media’s apparent insistence on clinging to their narrative of defeat and disaster in Basra, Nouri al-Maliki’s operation to restore control of the city to the elected government achieved its major goal today with the fall of the Mahdi militia’s stronghold in the city. An early-morning offensive against the Hayaniyah district of Basra netted dozens of arrests as the central government took control of the area for the first time:
Iraqi soldiers swooped on the Basra stronghold of Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr on Saturday, saying they had seized control of his militia bastion where they suffered an embarrassing setback in late March.
The dawn raid by government troops on the Hayaniya district of the southern oil city was backed by a thunderous bombardment by U.S. warplanes and British artillery.
It came after more intense fighting in Baghdad between security forces and Sadr’s black-masked militiamen. Police said 12 people had been killed in the Shi’ite slum of Sadr City and hospitals said they received more than 130 wounded overnight. …
“Our troops deployed in all the parts of the (Hayaniya) district and controlled it without much resistance,” Khalaf told Reuters. “Now we are working on house-to-house checking. We have made many arrests.”
Maliki, himself a Shi’ite, has threatened to ban Sadr’s mass movement from political life if the cleric does not disband the Mehdi Army. In response, Sadr has threatened to formally scrap a ceasefire he imposed on his militia last August, a move that could trigger a full-scale uprising.
The Mahdis claimed that the government faced no opposition and did not need to conduct a military operation to seize Hayaniyah. However, the Reuters report includes a reference to an armored vehicle with bullet marks, showing that the Iraqi Army took incoming fire.
The Mahdis claim that they may end their cease-fire if the Maliki government doesn’t stop its offensive, but it looks like they may not have much juice left. They haven’t been able to slow down the Iraqi Army since the first days of the Basra operation, and the joint IA/US operation in Sadr City continues as well. Maliki has decided that the time has come to put an end to extra-legal armies in Iraq, and the evidence so far shows that he may have timed his operation well enough for success.
Of course, others will likely continue to spin this as more disaster because “violence” has occurred. At some point, though, the central elected government had to displace the militias and ensure that they had an indisputable monopoly on force in the nation if they expected to remain credible and keep Iraq in one piece. They gave the Sadrists at least four years to disband on their own, and they refused to do so. Maliki’s confidence in his armed forces appears to have been justified, while the Mahdis look more like the paper tigers the IA was supposed to be.