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I credit favorite writers and public opinion makers.

A lifelong Democrat, my comments on Congress, the judiciary and the presidency are regular features.

My observations and commentary are on people and events in politics that affect the USA or the rest of the world, and stand for the interests of peace, security and justice.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Eyes on the Middle East -- It must be Thursday.

What is true about the current situation in Iraq? Finding out what is really going on in the Middle East is not easy. The Pentagon would have us believe one thing, the Bush administration's spin on that information is not trustworthy, and we who are against the war have our own "take" on the reality of the war in Iraq. The standard U.S. newspaper stories on Basra should always include whatever McClatchy reports. The New York Times will sometimes include criticism of the Bush administration as does their current Basra story (see also the excellent background aspects of the New York Times article on the militias competing for control of the city). Each of the articles allude to or report directly that the Iraqi military has not targeted all of the Shiite militias in control of Basra. There has been no fighting between certain militia elements and the Iraqi government forces, a fact that was buried in many of the news reports. U.S. news should always be bolstered by the larger perspective available from foreign news sources:

The International Herald Tribune is a trustworthy source. Its 3/26 story is that, "Iraq gives ultimatum to Shiite militias. . . lay down their weapons within 72 hours or face more severe consequences." I have included the section quoting the American perspective. To quote further:

As the fighting in Basra and Baghdad intensified on Wednesday, the American military command, speaking for the first time about the crackdown, characterized it as an Iraqi-led operation in which American-led forces were playing only an advisory role. An Iraqi hospital official said that the battle in Basra between Iraqi forces and Shiite militias had so far claimed the lives of 40 people and wounded at least 200, figures that include militia members as well as Iraqi officers.

. . . An American military spokesman, Major General Kevin Bergner, repeatedly sought on Wednesday to distance Western forces from the operation, saying that Maliki and his security ministers planned and carried it out on their own. He said American-led forces were on standby.

Nearly 16,000 Iraqi police officers and 9,014 Iraqi Army troops were involved in the operation, which Bergner said was not specifically aimed at the Mahdi army, the militia led by Moktada al-Sadr, the anti-American cleric whose cease-fire order has been credited with keeping violence down in Iraq.

"This is about criminal activity," he said. "This is about those who are not respecting the rule of law."

The IHT concluded its article:

Even before the crackdown on militias began on Tuesday, Pentagon statistics on the frequency of militia and insurgent attacks suggested that after major security gains last fall, the conflict had drifted into something of a stalemate. Violence has remained fairly steady over the past several months, but the streets have become tense and much more dangerous again after a period of calm.

. . . Sadiq al-Rikabi, Maliki's political adviser, and other Iraqi officials said that just how the unrest in Baghdad was related to the crackdown in Basra was unknown.

Basra, which until 2005 enjoyed relative peace, has since been riven by power struggles among the Mahdi army and local Shiite rivals, like the Badr Organization and a militia controlled by the Fadhila political party, a group that split from the Sadr party.

In the weeks leading up to the operation, Iraqi officials indicated that part of the operation would be aimed at the Fadhila groups, which are widely believed to be in control of Basra's lucrative port operations and other parts of the city. The ports have been plagued by corruption, draining revenue that could flow to the central and local governments. But the operation also threatens the Mahdi army's strongholds in Basra.

Aljazeera reported that the fighting continues in Basra. Conflicting reports on the number of civilians killed indicate that it is difficult to sort out the realities of the conflict. The opposing forces are, however, at least talking with each other. To quote:

The Iraqi government was holding talks with aides of al-Sadr in Najaf on Thursday to try to end the crisis, Liqa Ali Yassin, a member of Sadr's 32-member parliamentary bloc, said.

. . . Iraqi sources told Al Jazeera that about 60 civilians were killed in a US air strike on the city of southern city of Hilla, although there were conflicting reports. Iraqi security sources said that 29 people were killed.

The Aljazeera story concludes with differing reports regarding the motivation of the Iraqi security forces going head to head with al-Sadr. Again, I have included the American perspective as quoted by Aljazeera. To quote:

The three factions are fighting to control the huge oil revenues generated in the province, which was transferred to Iraqi control by the British military in December.

Sadr's powerful movement called protest rallies for Thursday "to express no confidence in the Maliki government" in the wake of the Basra assault.

US military spokesman Major General Kevin Bergner told a news conference on Wednesday that 2,000 extra Iraqi security forces had been sent to Basra for the operation. He said it was aimed at improving security in the city ahead of provincial elections in October.

"The prime minister's assessement is that without this operation there will not be any hopeful prospect of improving security in Basra," Bergner said.

Al Jazeera's James Bays, reporting from Baghdad, said the crackdown in Basra was meant as a show of strength by al-Maliki. He said: "I think the prime minister is trying to put his stamp in this operation. No one expected that he would go to Basra."

"Al-Maliki wants to show that he is in control because in the past, he was seen as a weak, impotent leader."

Each view of the same reality is differently covered in the previously cited stories. The Armed Forces Press Service characterize the Basra operation as an Iraqi-government led crackdown on crime. The National Security Adviser, Stephen Hadley claimed that "it is a byproduct of the success of the surge," according to McClatchy. The New York Times headlined that the Basra assault has stalled. The IHT gives an excellent review of the entire current circumstances of the war in Iraq, along with a very useful map of Basra and its oil operations. And I always want to know Aljazeera's "take" on any significant Middle East story. I have almost always been pleasantly surprised by what I learn in their reports.

View my current slide show about the Bush years -- "Millennium" -- at the bottom of this column.

(Cross-posted at The Reaction.)

My “creativity and dreaming” post today is at Making Good Mondays.

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The Future Was Yesterday said...

What is true about the current situation in Iraq?
"Truth is the first casualty of War" is a well known axiom. As a Vietnam era Vet, I believe the **real** truth can only is only known by those who had to fight and watch others die there, just as it was in Vietnam. Snatches of the truth emerge, but is quickly swallowed up in the fog of spin.

Carol Gee said...

Dan'l, I did not really realize that you fought in Vietnam, until today. You did not know at the time that I worried about you -- all of you -- at the time.
I agree completely that only those who actually live it can know the truth at that level of experience.
Those of us who observe with empathy intuit a bit about what it might have been like, but that's all we can manage.
What I do remember is that the "spin" always feels the same, to me, like a betrayal that diminishes the truth of the fight and all that goes with it. The classic example of this now -- Cheney's "So?"
Thanks, my friend, as always for stopping by.