Sunday, March 30, 2008

Sounds Like Retreat

Sadr has called for his militia to clear the streets:

The government welcomed the move, which followed intense negotiations by Shiite officials, including two lawmakers who reportedly traveled to Iran to ask religious authorities there to intervene.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, whose offensive that began Tuesday in the oil-rich southern city in Basra sparked the crisis, called al-Sadr's statement "a step in the right direction."

But fighting continued in the Basra area after the announcement. Seven people also were killed when a mortar struck a residential district in Baghdad's Karradah district, and witnesses reported clashes in the Shula area in a northern section of the capital.

The nine-point statement by the anti-American cleric, which was broadcast through Shiite mosques in Baghdad and across the south, called for an end to the "armed presence" in Basra and other cities and urged followers "to cooperate with the government to achieve security."

Al-Sadr, however, also demanded that the Iraqi government stop "illegal and haphazard raids" and release security detainees who haven't been charged, two issues cited by his movement as reasons for fighting the government.

So Sadr tells his boys to get off the streets without conditions and simply asks the government to back off.

And without giving up their arms, the Sadrists will simply be pursued by government forces even if it is low key and not as loud as this military operation was:

Al-Sadr's order stopped short of calling on his fighters to disarm. And the government insisted it would still target "outlaws."

It sure looks like Sadr lost this round. Yet there will be another round.

But don't underestimate the ability of our press to spin survival into brillian victory.

UPDATE: The Long War Journal recounts the losses that the Shia thugs endured:

Sadr’s call for an end to fighting by his followers comes as his Mahdi Army has taken high casualties over the past six days. Since the fighting began on Tuesday 358 Mahdi Army fighters were killed, 531 were wounded, 343 were captured, and 30 surrendered. The US and Iraqi security forces have killed 125 Mahdi Army fighters in Baghdad alone, while Iraqi security forces have killed 140 Mahdi fighters in Basra.

Back in 2004, we killed the Sadrists at just amazing kill ratios. This time the Iraqis did the same.

And if you doubt that this was a government victory, the terms of Sadr's retreat are clear:

"Sadr has sent a message to his loyalists urging them to end all armed activities," the Al Iraqiya television channel reported. Sadr "disowned anyone attacking the state institutions or parties' offices and headquarters."

Good luck storming the castle, and all. But Sadr won't be helping.

Remember, the Iraqi government doesn't need to kill all the Sadrists and Iranian thugs in battle. The government just needs to be free to pick up the leaders and hard core goons with raids that arrest or shoot the scum. Sadr just told the government that those still holding guns are fair game.

Remember also the tone of our press the last week. The press had you believe that the Iraqi offensive was stalled, that American air support was an act of desperation, and that the gains of the surge were about to be forfeited. Instead, we ripped the Sadrists a new one.

This didn't end the Sadrist threat. But it sure did teach all involved that the Sadrists will lose a stand up battle with the government.