Recently, at the request of Iraqi prime minister, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, the Iraqi government ordered its armed forces to deploy in Basra, the country’s major oil port and take the city back from the illegal militias led by the cleric Maktada al-Sadr.
Al-Sadr, who controls the votes of a parliamentary Shiite group, has been a major factor propping up the prime minister’s majority. Why the prime minister decided to go to war with al-Sadr in Basra is still a mystery. One possibility is that al-Sadr was stealing too much of the country’s oil revenues. Basra sits on one of the country’s largest oil pools and is the port from which most of Iraq’s oil exports are shipped.
Al-Maliki was hailed by American officials for having the will to take on the al-Sadr militia. In the past, al-Maliki intervened in Baghdad’s Sadr City to prevent the American forces from going after al-Sadr loyalists. It was Maliki, according to The New York Times of April 4, “who personally directed the Basra operation which both American and Iraqi officials have criticized as poorly planned and executed.”
According to the April 7 Times, Maliki has ordered “the armed wing of the political group led by Moktada al-Sadr, the powerful anti-American Shiite cleric, to disarm.” This order applies to Sadr City in Baghdad, as well as Basra. The Times article continues, “After the Iraqi soldiers [in Baghdad] came under attack, American forces in Abrams tanks, Stryker and Bradley fighting vehicles rumbled to the scene.”
The most significant aspect of the battle between the Iraqi army and the Sadr militia was that, according to the Times, “more than 1,000 Iraqi soldiers and policemen either refused to fight or simply abandoned their posts during the inconclusive assault against Shiite militias in Basra, a senior Iraqi government official said. The group included dozens of officers, including at least two senior field commanders in the battle.”
American airpower was called in, the Times reported, “American support for Iraqi government forces has also continued.”
The new Iraqi army outfitted and trained by the American Army failed in this most important military engagement against one of the most important terrorist leaders responsible for attacks on American armed forces in Baghdad and elsewhere in the country.
If the Iraqi army which under Saddam Hussein was the most feared and battle hardened in the Gulf area, is after five years of training under American direction, unable to defeat a rag-tag militia, what are we — the American Army — doing there? Waiting for the Iraqi army to take over combat from the American forces, is like waiting for Godot. It isn’t going to happen.
The militia problem in Iraq can be traced to the disbanding of Saddam’s army in May 2003. That stupid decision made by America’s then viceroy, Paul Bremer, and approved by then Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and President Bush, was probably the single dumbest action taken by the American government in Iraq to date.
When we leave Iraq, as we surely will after the election in November 2008, if not before, it is clear that Iraq will implode. The extraordinary courage and efforts of the American military forces before, during and after the surge, will not save Iraq from being destroyed by its own internal divisions, including not only al-Sadr, but many more local warlords, Shiite, Sunni and Kurd, all bent on imposing their concerns, for some, their religion, on the others and dividing Iraq into fiefdoms.
Why should Americans continue to die to defend an Iraq that is not defended by its own sons?
Iraqi soldiers desert while American soldiers suffer deaths and casualties and are compelled to serve multiple tours of duty, diminishing their chances of coming home alive and well.
Our allies — Muslim and European — have deserted us in Iraq. They have even failed in their obligation to provide troops adequate for the conflict in Afghanistan, which is a war they approved. Why, for heaven’s sake, do we continue to bear the overwhelming burden of battle when the war against Islamic terrorism should be the obligation of all of our allies as well, many of whom are closer to the terrorists geographically and in greater danger than the U.S.?
The answer is starkly stated in the April 6 Times, which reported, “At the Nato meeting in Bucharest, Romania, he [President Bush] called the war on Islamic extremism — a focus of his administration since the attacks of September 11, 2001 – ‘the top priority of this alliance,’ a view that is not universal among some European allies.”
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