US Military Strikes Embarrass al-Maliki While he is in Tehran
The US military took advantage of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s absence from the country to settle some scores with the Mahdi Army in Sadr City (East Baghad), attacking units there and mounting air strikes on them, killing 32 and wounding about a dozen. Local observers claimed that the attacks killed 9 innocent civilians, but the US military said the casualties were militiamen. When al-Maliki is in Baghdad, he tends to run interference for the Sadr Movement, which elected him to office, and to attempt to convince the US military to put off attacking these Shiite forces until after the Sunni Arab guerrillas are dealt with decisively.
Iraqslogger shows the reaction in Sadr City. It isn’t pretty.
Not only did the US military attack these Shiite forces unilaterally, but its spokesmen attempted to link the Mahdi Army cell attacked to the importation of explosively formed projectiles from Iran.
It cannot be an accident that both the attack and the attempt to implicate Iran (with no evidence for the allegations against Tehran provided) came while al-Maliki was in Tehran for high level consultations with the Iranian government.
In other words, the US military is playing a dangerous political game of attempting to undermine al-Maliki’s diplomacy with Iran and to alienate the Sadr Movement from him altogether (it has already suspended membership in his government). For more on the timing of (surely overstated) US military announcements implicating Iran so as to undermine talks with Tehran by US and Iraqi diplomats, see Bill Beeman’s comments below. This is not the proper role for generals, and it is shocking that Amassador Ryan Crocker and Secretary of State Condi Rice allow it to go on.
In Tehran, al-Maliki was attempting to get Iranian security cooperation and also a pledge of help with providing fuel and electricity to East Baghdad. Al-Maliki is caught between his two patrons, Iran and the US, and needs the support of both to survive politically.
Al-Hayat reports in Arabic that the Iranians hit back at US charges at the security meeting in Damascus, saying that the US and Iraq were not in a position to lecture others on terrorism as long as they gave refuge in Iraq to the Mojahedin-e Khalq Organization (MKO or MEK), which is responsible for numerous bombings and other terrorism in Iran. The US State Department acknowledges that the MEK is a terrorist organization, but the Pentagon is using it against Iran anyway. Turkey likewise chimed in on US/Iraqi hypocrisy, complaining that terrorists of the PKK (Kurdish Workers Party) are being coddled inside the Iraqi border.
Meanwhile, Iraq’s Shiites, during pilgrimage season to the shrine of Imam Musa al-Kazim (7th in the line after the Prophet Muhammad), have no doubt which external power is to blame for the bombings in Baghdad, and it is not Iran– it is Saudi Arabia.
Saudi Arabia, angry at al-Maliki, Syria and Iran, declined to attend the Damascus security meeting, which I think is a very bad sign. The only way we avoid a proxy war in Iraq between the Saudis and the Iranians is if both sides can do the hard diplomacy to avoid it.
As if the politics and violence were not enough, Iraq is menaced by the imminent collapse of a dam north of Mosul.
The Group News Blog suggests that the British military may well withdraw from Iraq by October.
At the Bonaparte in Egypt blog, the French army marches on Damanhour from Alexandria.