Thursday, March 27, 2008


Things are certainly getting rather more interesting in the south of Iraq, and as dourly as the BBC can spin it, I see this as a very hopeful time. The Iraqi Security Forces, made up of Iraqi Police and Army (ISF, IP and IA) have launched a massive offensive against elements of the Iranian-backed Jaysh al-Mahdi ('Army of the Mahdi', JAM) Shi'a militia in Basrah and throughout southern Iraq. JAM has responded in force, though without the explicit blessing of its supposed leader, the self-proclaimed 'cleric' Muqtada al-Sadr, who is still in theory holding to the cease-fire he declared six months ago.

Sidenote: At issue here is a bit of a semantic misunderstanding. The Western media insist on referring to JAM as if it were a traditionally organized guerrilla military. And to be fair, JAM refers to itself as such. In the Arab media, however, you'll see far more reference to the "Sadrist movement", which does a better job of conveying exactly how nebulous this organization is. No one really knows exactly what degree of operational control al-Sadr has over the movement that bears his name. It's quite likely that he's continued operations throughout the ceasefire. It's also likely that there are "Sadrist" groups using the name of JAM that have no operational connection whatsoever to Mr. Muqtada. In any case, the point will soon be moot, God willing, when the IP and IA run them out of town.

This is the biggest test the ISF have yet faced, and by all accounts, they're performing remarkably well. As far as I've seen in the media, they've received nothing more than air support and advice from the Brits and Americans, and believe me, we're happy to sit this one out. If they pull this off and come out of this with anything that even approximates a victory, it will be a huge accomplishment for the Iraqi government. The Iraqi people's confidence in the ISF and in Baghdad in general, already growing according to recent polls, will get a massive boost. At the same time, their waning support for JAM and similar militias could hit rock-bottom. We can but hope and pray, as these are dangerous but hopeful times for Iraq.

No comments: