Who Surrendered in Basra, Anyway?
With hisslanted reporting on fighting between the Iraqi army and militias following the radical Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr in Basra, Baghdad bureau chief James Glanz is making us miss his predecessor John Burns.
Based on the bare facts relayed in his Tuesday story,"Cleric's Order to End Clash casts Fragile Calm Over Baghdad and Basra," it sounds as if Sadr backed down and surrendered to Iraqi troops. But Glanz thinks Prime Minister Maliki is the loser:
Militiamen with the Mahdi Army the followers of the Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr, mostly vanished from the streets of Basra on Monday, a day after he ordered them to lay down their arms and also insisted that the Iraqi government grant a general amnesty for his followers, and made other demands.
Iraqi Army and police forces immediately moved into Basra neighborhoods abandoned by the Mahdi Army, which is the armed wing of Mr. Sadr's political movement, setting up checkpoints and searching for roadside bombs. As helicopters continued buzzing overhead, shops began to reopen and residents ventured out into the streets. The southern Iraqi city had been a battleground since Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki ordered federal forces to begin an assault on the city a week ago.
Mr. Maliki had vowed that he would see the Basra campaign through to a military victory, and the negotiated outcome was seen as a serious blow to his leadership.
Last week, Iraq's defense minister, Abdul Kadir al-Obeidi, conceded that the government's military efforts in Basra met with far more resistance than expected. Many Iraqi politicians say that Mr. Maliki's political capital has been severely depleted by the Basra campaign and that he is in the curious position of having to turn to Mr. Sadr, a longtime rival, for a way out.
The negotiations with Mr. Sadr were seen as a serious blow for Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, who had vowed that he would see the Basra campaign through to a military victory and who has been harshly criticized even within his own coalition for the stalled assault.
Hudson Institute scholar Nibras Kazimi, who has been to Baghdad, blogged on Glanz's biased reporting on Basra.
The NYTimes reports that most of Basra - and by "most" they mean 50 to 70 percent of the city as claimed in today's NYTimes print edition - is allegedly under Mahdi Army control. This is a complete fabrication. As of last night, the Iraqi Army began a systematic cleansing of downtown Basra and its southern suburbs, meeting minimal resistance. The criminal cartels struck at police stations in the northern portion of the city that the Army has decided not to contest for the time being as they roll up the gangsters in the more economically sensitive areas of the city. Maliki has given slots to the major tribal chiefs to recruit soldiers and policemen, for example, the sheikhs of the Bani Tamim tribe were given 950 jobs in the Interior Ministry. These are 950 families that will begin to draw a salary from the Iraqi state - no wonder the cartels are turning to dust when faced with the resources that Maliki has at his discretion. The NYTimes is reporting that the Mahdi Army is preventing volunteers from going to the recruitment centers, but that's not how the recruitment is being processed; the tribal chiefs are still drawing names and they have yet to hand over these lists to the Maliki cabinet.
Across Iraq, the bravado of the Sadrists is being exposed as hollow, yet western journalists eagerly lap it up still because they are itching to claim that Iraq is aflame when they don't know any better. Taken this sentence in a straight news story in the NYTimes today, "As the blood pooled on village streets and ran into city gutters, news arrived of older, though no less wrenching deaths." Why resort to lyricism? Why link events in Iraq in this same news story to the U.S. presidential elections when there's nothing specific in terms of what the candidates have said about Basra's event for the NYTimes to report?