Six weeks ago, I wrote that Basra would become a real problem for the Iraqi government. In this morning’s New York Times, the seat of the pants operating style of Prime Minister Maliki was revealed to be at the heart of the disaster last week in Iraq’s southern city.
Interviews with a wide range of American and military officials also suggest that Mr. Maliki overestimated his military’s abilities and underestimated the scale of the resistance. The Iraqi prime minister also displayed an impulsive leadership style that did not give his forces or that of his most powerful allies, the American and British military, time to prepare.
“He went in with a stick and he poked a hornet’s nest, and the resistance he got was a little bit more than he bargained for,” said one official in the multinational force in Baghdad who requested anonymity.
So why did Maliki rush this operation without informing either his American protectors or the rest of his government? Because this was not a government security operation, but rather a political hit job on a rival faction.
While restoring order was his stated goal, he asserted, the Iraqi leader was also eager to weaken the Mahdi Army and the affiliated political party of the renegade cleric Moktada al-Sadr before provincial elections in the south that are expected to be to be held this year.
Maliki’s subsequent retreat from Basra, and the “cease fire” engineered with al-Sadr, probably encamped in Tehran, proves the Democratic point that there is no willingness on the part of the Iraqi’s to engage in serious political reconciliation. As Zbiginiew Brzezinski wrote last week,
In this context, so highly reminiscent of the British colonial era, the longer we stay in Iraq, the less incentive various contending groups will have to compromise and the more reason simply to sit back. A serious dialogue with the Iraqi leaders about the forthcoming U.S. disengagement would shake them out of their stupor.
In 1920 the Great British Orientalist, T.E. Lawrence told the Times of London, “The people of England have been led in Mesopotamia into a trap which it will be hard to escape with dignity and honour. They have been tricked into it by a steady withholding of information.” The UK spent four fruitless decades in that trap, with nothing to show for it in the end. How can John McCain convince us that our experience will be any different?