Iraq Cease-Fire Over
The cease-fire that has kept the main Shiite militia mostly quiet for the past seven months seems to have unraveled. The US blames Iran.
The Mahdi Army’s seven-month-long cease-fire appears to have come undone. Rockets fired from the capital’s Shiite district of Sadr City slammed into the Green Zone Tuesday, the second time in three days, and firefights erupted around Baghdad pitting government and US forces against the militia allied to the influential Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. At the same time, the oil-export city of Basra became a battleground Tuesday as Iraqi forces, backed by US air power, launched a major crackdown on the Mahdi Army elements. British and US forces were guarding the border with Iran to intercept incoming weapons or fighters, according to a senior security official in Basra.
The US blames the latest attacks on rogue Mahdi Army elements tied to Iran, but analysts say the spike in fighting with Shiite militants potentially opens a second front in the war when the American military is still doing battle with the Sunni extremists of Al Qaeda in Iraq.
On Tuesday, Rear Adm. Greg Smith, spokesman for US-led multinational forces in Iraq, blamed the elite Quds units of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards for supplying the 22 107-mm and 122-mm rockets that hit the heavily fortified area of Baghdad that is home to the US Embassy. “We believe the violence is being instigated by members of special groups that are beholden to the Iranian Quds Force and not Sadr…. Although we are concerned, we know that very few Iraqis want a return to the violence they experienced before the surge,” he says.
Admiral Smith says US and Iraqi forces were facing two distinct enemies in Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) and the Iranian-trained and supplied special groups. But he adds, “AQI is still Iraq’s No. 1 enemy.”
There is growing concern, however, that Iran could respond to such US accusations. “This is pretty serious, and if the Iranians do not back down rapidly this will escalate,” says Martin Navias, an analyst at Britain’s Centre for Defence Studies at King’s College in London. “The US has a number of problems with Iran, mainly the nuclear program and its behavior in Iraq. There are many people in the Bush administration who want to hit Iran.”
While Iraqi troops fought with Shiite militants in Basra Tuesday, a contingent of Coalition troops, including British and US forces, mobilized at Basra’s border with Iran to prevent militiamen from escaping or smuggling in ammunition and weapons, according to a senior security source in the city who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of his remarks.
The claim that “AQI is still Iraq’s No. 1 enemy” strikes me as extremely dubious, especially after months of claiming that the Surge has decimated that force and that Iraqis have long since rejected them.
One would think, too, that we’d have used the relative lull in violence of the last few months to secure the border with Iran, since that has always been a pipeline for anti-government forces.