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Kagan & Kagan On Basra Knowns and Unknowns

There appear to be two dominant - and polarized - views on the recent clash between the Maliki government in Iraq and Jaish al-Mahdi (JAM or the Mahdi Army). One train of thought has Muqtada al-Sadr (and/or Iran) emerging victorious, while the other has Sadr (and/or iran) taking a major hit in a strategic defeat.

What was the impetus for the fight? Who took both the physical and perceived hits? Whose strategic landscape has been altered? To what ends? These are all important questions ot dissect and assemble answers to. But before any definitive answers can be suggested, we need to take in the knowns and unknowns.

To this end, Fred Kagan and Kimberly Kagan have put together 'the short list' on The Basra Business: What we know and what we don't. It is today's required reading; brief, bulleted and to the point.

MUCH OF THE DISCUSSION about recent Iraqi operations against illegal Shia militias has focused on issues about which we do not yet know enough to make sound judgments, overlooking important conclusions that are already clear. Coming days and weeks will provide greater insight into whether Maliki or Sadr gained or lost from this undertaking; how well or badly the Iraqi Security Forces performed; and what kind of deal (if any) the Iraqi Government accepted in return for Sadr's order to stand down his forces. The following lists provide a brief summary of what we can say with confidence about recent operations and what we cannot.

What We Know:
• The legitimate Government of Iraq and its legally-constituted security forces launched a security operation against illegal, foreign-backed, insurgent and criminal militias serving leaders who openly call for the defeat and humiliation of the United States and its allies in Iraq and throughout the region. We can be ambivalent about the political motivations of Maliki and his allies, but we cannot be ambivalent about the outcome of this combat between our open allies and our open enemies.

• The Sadrists and Special Groups failed to set Iraq alight despite their efforts--Iraqi forces kept the Five Cities area (Najaf, Karbala, Hillah, Diwaniyah, and Kut) under control with very little Coalition assistance; Iraqi and Coalition forces kept Baghdad under control.

• Sadr never moved to return to Iraq, ordered his forces to stop fighting without achieving anything, and further demonstrated his dependence on (and control by) Iran.

Be sure to read all of The Basra Business: What we know and what we don't. It's as excellent as it is important.


Basra and American interests

But Mr. al-Maliki is still Prime Minister and still controls Iraq’s security forces, consisting of hundreds of thousands in the ranks and backed by the Americans.

Al-Sadr, meanwhile, still is in hiding in Iran.
Every time the Mahdi Army musters on the streets, hundreds are cut down and hundreds more captured.

And for all of his popularity, al-Sadr’s political party earned one of the smaller vote totals among the Shi’ite parties at the last election; his violent overreaching since then may not have improved his popularity.

And even though al-Maliki’s government forces supposedly lost the battle on Basra’s streets, government security operations in the south continue, with
armed government convoys patrolling areas

some analysts said they would never enter .

From Iraq: Observations of a USMC Liason to the ISF
"The Iraq Army has cordoned off the city and is methodically advancing to
allow residents to leave the city amidst the fighting, militants to turnover arms while gradually isolating the factions they intend to uproot.

This is a stark contrast from tactics used during "Saddam times" where indiscriminant death and destruction were used to rule by fear.

The methodology is symbolic because it demonstrates that the Army and the GoI are not indiscriminately targeting the population, it also demonstrates military and governmental confidence and strength."

Stories highlighting defections. It was reported yesterday that 40
Iraqi Police (IP) defected to "join the militia movement". This is most
likely true. However, the IP consists of tens of thousands of personnel
and that number equates to less than half of 1% of the IPs. This should
not be viewed as a systemic issue and represents an improvement on
several orders of magnitude from years ago when defections were far
greater in magnitude and scope.