According to senior sources, the offensive [in Basra] was launched three months before [Lieutenant-General Mohan al-Furayji, the Iraqi commander leading the battle against the Mehdi Army of Muqtada al-Sadr] had wanted it to, and despite him warning that going in too early would result in the fighting spreading to other Shia strongholds. It was not the first time the general had been at odds with the Baghdad government. Mr Maliki had considered removing him from his post four weeks ago, but desisted after lobbying by the British.
British commanders were unaware of the operation until just before it began, although the Iraqi government’s national security adviser, Mowaffaq al-Rubaie, had spent half an hour discussing the plan with General David Petraeus, the US commander in Iraq, on Saturday evening. This was followed by Mr Maliki ordering two extra Iraqi infantry battalions to Basra that night.
Last week, Lt-Gen Mohan was in Baghdad, putting forward his case for establishing security in Basra before taking on the Shia militias. As well as additional resources and securing the Iranian border, it would have involved Mr Maliki announcing a weapons amnesty for the militias in June, possibly lasting as long as six weeks, as opposed to the 72 hours given when the offensive began on Tuesday.
As Laura Rozen noted this past Tuesday, al-Furayji announced the impending southern operation last wee, although he kept the timing vague (“soon”). Apparently his preferred schedule was stepped up against his wishes. One can’t help but wonder if the timing is somehow related to the next Crocker/Petraeus report, scheduled to be presented to Congress April 8-9.
Cernig also observes the following:
“The security situation is worsening.” Well, if retired General Jack Keane, one of the architects and chief propagandists for the Surge, says it’s so, then it must be.
Indeed, one would think. Of course, one should never reflexively discount positive White House spin (unless one is secretly rooting for the terrorists):
The Bush administration hailed an Iraqi offensive against Shiite militiamen in the southern city of Basra as a ``bold decision” that shows the country’s security forces are capable of combating terrorists.
“This is what we have been wanting to see the Iraqis do,” White House spokeswoman Dana Perino told reporters in Washington yesterday. “This is one of the first times that they’ve had such an entrenched battle and we’ll be there to support them if they need it.”
The fighting is a test for Iraqi forces, who took over responsibility for security in Basra from the U.K. military in December. Iraq’s ability to tackle extremists will influence the pace at which the U.S. withdraws its forces from the country, as the conflict enters its sixth year.
Despite the feigned optimism re: Iraqi forces coming from Washington, Keane believes the Brits should hold off their planned withdrawal from Basra until the security situation stabilizes. However, according to David Axe, the likelihood of UK troops playing a significant future role in the region isn’t great–and the US knows it:
With no forward bases, no intelligence apparatus in the city of Basra, less nimble equipment and no political will to suffer a single additional casualty in Iraq, the roughly 3,000 Brits remaining in the country can do little but wait out the current fighting.
Which means any Western intervention in Basra…will have to be mostly manned by U.S. forces. Specifically, U.S. Marines, according to one AFP report.
There were signs that U.S. planners were preparing for this eventuality months ago. Despite steady cuts to British forces at Basra air station, construction continued on new facilities, including dining halls capable of feeding thousands of troops. British soldiers openly speculated that the new buildings were for the Yanks who might one day replace them in southern Iraq.
In other words, expect a heavy US troop presence in Iraq for the near future (ie, at least the rest of ’08).