Monday, March 31, 2008

What's going on in Basra?

Kevin Drum has a series of posts on this subject. Here's his latest:

In urban warfare like this it's frequently hard to figure out who's "won" and who's "lost." Often both sides lose. In this case, though, it certainly looks as if Maliki has lost more than Sadr. Both sides have taken casualties, but Sadr doesn't appear to have lost any ground; he's forced Maliki to come to him to ask for terms; he's successfully projected a statesmanlike image throughout; and politically he seems to be in stronger shape than before. Maliki, conversely, appears by all accounts to have launched an ill-timed mission with inadequate troops and then been unable to close the deal. The Iraqi army and the redoubtable Gen. Mohan al-Furayji, the much lauded leader of the regular forces in Basra, are both looking pretty banged up in the bargain too.

This could all change tomorrow, but right now that's about where we stand. It's increasingly hard to see how the Basra offensive ends up being a plus for Maliki and his allies. Including us, unfortunately.

Whatever is going on, we can be certain that the Bush administration and other deluded fools/bald-faced liars (and when it comes to Iraq policy, McCain is definitely one or the other) will claim that:
  1. This is an important sign of progress, showing that we're winning the occupation.
  2. Despite this great progress, or perhaps because of this progress, we can't decrease the number of our occupying forces for the foreseeable future.
And, indeed, Bush is doing both, according to this Washington Post article:
Bush cast the battling in Basra not as a setback but as more fodder for optimism, a sign that Iraq's leaders were ready to challenge the militias that dominate the southern city with a tough security crackdown designed and led by the government's own forces. "The enemy will try to fill the TV screens with violence," the president said. "But the ultimate result will be this: Terrorists and extremists in Iraq will know they have no place in a free and democratic society."

[...]

Petraeus has recommended a pause in troop withdrawals after the extra combat brigades that Bush sent last year leave this summer, and the president has been laying the political groundwork for adopting that approach.
(And just to boast of how savvy I am, I wrote those two points before seeing the Post article.)

For the Bush administration, the occupation of Iraq has long since become an end in itself. It is no longer tied to any broader strategic goals (with the possible exception of the enrichment of certain defense contractors and oil companies). The justifications come and go. The occupation remains.

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