Saturday, March 29, 2008

Expected Support

American air power is supporting the Iraqi offensive against Shia gangs and Iranian-backed killers:

Maj. Brad Leighton, a U.S. military spokesman, said U.S. and Iraqi special operations forces had identified snipers on several roofs before the strike was ordered.

An AC-130 gunship then opened fire on enemy positions on three roofs.

"Initial reports indicate 16 criminal fighters were killed," he said in an e-mail response to a query by The Associated Press.

The American support occurred as Iraqi troops struggled against strong resistance from militia fighters in Basra, where Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has vowed to keep up the fight despite mounting anger among followers of radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

The government crackdown has prompted retaliation elsewhere in Shiite areas in Baghdad and other cities in the oil-rich south.

American jets were first called to attack militia positions in Basra on Friday, four days after al-Maliki launched the operation to clear the city of militia violence.

Remember, it should not be any shock that American aircraft are providing air support. Some media elements seem to think that this is a sign of disaster.

Remember, we still need to provide many support functions to the Iraqis. That's why we can't just get out. The Iraqis have decent light infantry forces and are working on their heavier forces and combat support elements for further down the line.

Also, it should not be surprising that pro-Sadr elements will protest the offensive. They like having guns. They like the money that the guns provide. They'd like the influence those guns can provide in new elections. And God knows what makes the SOBs from Iran happy. But they don't like being hunted. They'd like to scare us off.

But Maliki's determination to defeat them with Iraqi troops, with our support that we've always been counted on to supply, can beat these guys if we don't go all wobbly. AC-130 gunships will make the gangsters wet their pants, by the way. Very accurate. Very deadly.

Taking on the Shia thugs has always been a job we had to take on before we can win this war. And with the Sunni threats diminishing, the time seems to be now.

UPDATE: Anthony Cordesman seems to be afflicted with the problem of knowing too much about the internal workings of the Shias:

There is no question that many elements of the Mahdi Army have been guilty of sectarian cleansing, that the Sadr movement is hostile to the United States, that some of its extremists have continued acts of violence in spite of the cease-fire Mr. Sadr declared last summer, and that some of these rogue elements have ties to Iran. No one should romanticize the Sadr movement, understate the risks it presents or ignore the violent radicals in the Mahdi Army.

But it is equally important not to romanticize Mr. Maliki, the Dawa Party or the Islamic Supreme Council. The current fighting, which the government portrays as a crackdown on criminality, is better seen as a power grab, an effort by Mr. Maliki and the most powerful Shiite political parties to establish their authority over Basra and the parts of Baghdad that have eluded their grasp.

Moreover, Mr. Maliki’s gamble has already dragged American forces part-way into the fight, including airstrikes in Basra. Striking at violent, rogue elements in the Mahdi Army is one thing, but engaging the entire Sadr movement is quite another. The official cease-fire that has kept the mainstream Mahdi Army from engaging government and United States forces may well be rescinded if the government’s assault continues.

Sometimes, when you know the difference between the 90% nutballs and the 85% nutballs, you can fail to see the obvious as you try to make your knowledge of the shades of differences provide deep analysis.

First of all, we are not being "dragged" into the fight. When Iraqis need air power, we aupply it. That's the plan. Is Cordesman saying we should force Iraq to fight one-dimensional fights with only light infantry, machine guns, and light mortars? Are we to insist that Iraqis endure more casualties so we can watch after committing to helping?

Second, you don't have to romanticize Maliki's government to recognize he heads the legally elected government and is trying to suppress armed bands outside of the law. For all the howls about Blackwater, at least the company faces legal limits on its actions and can be held accountable. What mechanisms check Sadr and the Shia thugs? Well, the government security forces. Which Maliki is using.

So we get back to the importance of the first paragraph above where Cordesman recounts the obvious problems with the Shia thugs. And without the silliness of the next two paragraphs, we should see why Iraq needs to bring those goons to heel and continue the efforts to pacify Iraq. And we should certainly recognize that in providing support to the Iraqi line units, we are carrying out the plan for developing the Iraqi forces.