This morning I tuned into a conference call the White House organized for bloggers, along with Bruce McQuain of QandO, and Captain Ed Morrissey of Hot Air. A “senior administration official” answered our question for half an hour on Iraq.
The call was timed to coincide with the Petraeus & Crocker testimony on capitol hill today. I asked questions about the recent events in Basra. The White House said (is that correct form? A house can’t talk. Never mind, just write the story.) that we have seen the future of Iraq, and it will be very much like Basra. That is, now that Iraqi’s have taken provincial control of about 50% of the country, including the province in which Iraq’s second largest city Basra is located, we will see more Iraqi planned, lead, and executed operations of varying degrees of competence and success in the future. As different groups in Iraq jostle for control of resources and the wealth of the country, the government will sometimes step in to restore order as best they can.
According to our source, in the case of Basra, the government of Iraq decided that the 25-30 gang leaders who were disrupting commerce and terrorizing the population of Basra had to be dealt with. He said that the operation wasn’t planned to the level of detail that a Western military operation might be, but they learned from the operation and hope to do a better job in the future. One can expect that as other areas of the country devolve into the chaotic situation that prevailed in Basra, the government will again have to take action to deal with it.
The spokesman said that the militias that controlled Basra had overplayed their hands, much like Al Qaeda in Anbar did. The population did not enjoy being terrorized, and welcomed the restoration of order and seeing the gangs driven out.
I asked about the media story line that the recent violence had strengthened the hand of Iran and Sadr, since “militias loyal to Sadr” called for a cease file, which was negotiated by Iran. Our friend in the White House said that what happened is that Maliki recognized that the JAM militias in Basra were more entrenched than expected, and the rogue militia leaders recognized that the Iraqi security forces were stronger than they anticipated. After the initial battles, each side discovered the other side was more powerful and deadly than they expected. Maliki agreed to the cease fire to address the non-military problems in Basra, including economic and political issues that could only be addressed by non-military means. Sadr agreed because his men were dying and his weapons were being confiscated in large numbers.
The administration official ended by reminding us that the battle is not over, and that the path to the future will go through other Basra type operations across Iraq. Stay tuned.
Note: I edited the original entry to showcase the ideas as those of the spokesman for the White House, and not, as I indicated, facts. Thanks to Max for the editing advice.