Following the standoff in Basra last week between Iraqi forces and Muqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi militia, the American media portrayed the resolution of the standoff as a military and political disaster for Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki. The four day operation resulted in a supposed cease fire agreement reached between the Iraqi government and an al-Sadr still hiding in Iran. Time magazine declared that the concession amounted to a victory for Sadr; that the Iraqis granted him and his militia some type of legitimacy in the process
GEN Petraeus acknowledged in Ralph Peter's New York Post piece ""the planning for Basra was incomplete and some of the local forces were incapable of standing up to the Iranian-supported rogue-militia elements." I suppose that if you compare their performance to American and British capabilities then their performance might appear lacking. However, reports from the field are that the Iraqi forces went INTO the heart of Basra and fought toe-to-toe with the Mahdi militia, something coalition forces never did.
GEN Petraeus summarized the Iraqi's performance in overcoming their own operational difficulties: "It also displayed the Iraqi capability to deploy two brigades' worth of conventional and special-operations forces on less than 48-hours' notice, with another brigade following. That would not have been possible a year ago."
I should point out that it is being (more accurately) reported now that al-Sadr requested the cease-fire, not the Iraqi government. After all, his force was decisively engaged and facing a now determined Iraqi force bent on securing the vital areas of Basra. If the Mahdi Army fights and gets itself wiped out, Sadr loses a huge chunk of his political leverage.
So were does that leave us today? UPI is reporting that Prime Minister al-Maliki has ordered the complete disbandment of the Mahdi Army. Iraqi Soldiers have continued a theater-wide assault against the entire of al-Sadr's forces. It now seems that the Iraqi government is no longer satisfied with obtaining peace with Sadr, now the Iraqi's appear on the edge of crushing him.
So why aren't we hearing a lot of this on the news? It appears that word is beginning to get out of the region. Fox News appears to be doing their job and echoing the sentiments of Peter's and UPI in preparation of tomorrow's brief to Congress by GEN Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker. Look for other news agencies and editorials to pick up the beat after the General's sound bytes blanket the news waves.
Of course, while this is potentially tremendous news for the Coalition and its supporters, I can't help but think that it does not sound well for folks that are banking on making a living promising a quick pullout.
GEN Petraeus is a huge fan of T.E. Lawrence, going so far as to quote him in the Army's revolutionary new FM 3.0. Paraphrased, it's better for our local allies to do something imperfectly themselves than for us to do it perfectly for them. Given time, resources, and training and throw in a little patience, the Iraqi Defense Force will overcome. Unfortunately it appears that they may be a little short on time.
The biggest obstacle facing the Iraqi forces is no longer the Mahdi Army or al-Quada, but rather a mounting force of unrealistic expectations.