US Drawdown Begins Sadrists call for New Parliamentary Elections

The US military has begun to reverse last year’s troop escalation, which brought the number of combat brigades in Iraq up to 20. It is now going back down to 19, and will stand at 15 in July of 2008 if things go according to plan. That is, the number of US troops in Iraq on the eve of the 2008 election will be about 140,000. If the “take, clear and hold” strategy of clearing guerrillas out of Baghdad neighborhoods has been successful, and if Iraqi security forces can continue the “hold” stage on their own, and if Sunni Arab guerrillas and Shiite militias don’t reemerge in the neighborhoods that the US abandons in the capital, then violence looks set to hold at some 10,000 civilian deaths a year.

That level of violence is horrible, among the worst in the world. But the American Right, having promised us garlands, then democracy and secularism, then peace both in Iraq and in Israel & Palestine, has finally declared that an ongoing low intensity guerrilla war is a glorious victory and is ‘turning the corner.’

My best guess is that Iraqis will go on fighting their three wars, for control of Basra among Shiite militiamen; for control of Baghdad and its hinterlands between Sunnis and Shiites; and for control of Kirkuk among Kurds, Arabs and Turkmen. They will fight these wars to a conclusion or a stalemate. It is only the battle for Baghdad that has been fought at a lower intensity because of the American surge in any case, and I would be surprised if it does not start back up as US troops leave. Violence in all three wars was reported by McClatchy for Monday, with bombings and mortar attacks continuing in Baghdad albeit on a reduced scale. Violence in Kirkuk, and in the northern Sunni hinterland of Baghdad (Samarra) was already reported for today early Tuesday morning.

Al-Hayat reports in Arabic that the police chief of Basra, Jalil Khalaf, says he has faced 7 assassination attempts and that his city suffers from religious and ideological terrorism that has caused the educated middle class to flee and led to the dominance of a band of “thieves” supported by political parties grown rich through the theft of materiel from the formal government security forces.

He said he has only been in office 4 months and has not had time to purge corrupt elements from the police who have given protection to militia and party leaders. He said that there is constant theft of petroleum products, antiquities, and livestock, and that the city had been flooded with weaponry and snipers. He admitted that police intelligence had been penetrated by the militias, which is how they knew his own location well enough to set roadside bombs for his convoy. He has narrowly escaped death on several recent occasions.

Khalaf said that the British had turned 4,000 vehicles over to the Basra police, but that he did not know the fate of most of them, since the Basra police only had 1335 vehicles left.

He pledged to reverse the recent downward spiral in Basra’s security. But he said that foreign powers armed the militiamen, so that even if he could disarm them, the weapons would just be given to them again from outside. He pledged nevertheless to protect artists, intellectuals, writers and university professors from terror threats aimed at silencing them.

The problem is that Basra is Iraq’s major port area, and the point from which most of its petroleum is exported, and if it is such a mess, it is hard to see how the Baghdad government can flourish. Mind you, Khalaf is saying that his own men routinely try to kill him, and these are the ones he is trying to deploy against the Shiite militias and tribal mafias!

The Sadr Bloc is now demanding the dissolution of parliament and the calling of new elections. If they follow through on this demand, the next step is for them to try to call a vote of no confidence in Prime Minister al-Maliki, a step that can be initiated by 55 members of parliament. The trouble is that they would need a majority of the full 275 member parliament to unseat him, not just a majority of a quorum. Gathering a quorum has been hard enough for the past year or so.

Sami Moubayid argues that PM al-Maliki will find it difficult to transcend his own history of narrow sectarian decision-making.

At the Napoleon’s Egypt blog, two letters from the French politician Tallien on the disaster of the sinking of much of the French fleet by the British off Alexandria.