Peace offers are for losers

by John Quiggin on March 31, 2008

The pro-war blogosphere is full of the news of Sadr’s defeat in the battle for Basra, manifested in his call for a truce, an end to government raids and the release of all prisoners. Here’s a roundup of the links from Glenn Reynolds. Reynolds, who has chronicled Sadr’s decline into irrelevance from 2004 to the present, is a bit more circumspect than he has been in the past, saying “it’s likely a blink, not a major defeat.”, but most of the bloggers he links to are unrestrained in their triumph.

Among the points I’ve picked up, illustrating the magnitude of the victory

  • The number of Iraqi police and military who have defected to Sadr has been much exaggerated, and most of them were bad lots anyway
  • The body count ratio looks really good
  • Attacks on the Green Zone are a desperate fling, easily countered by staying indoors and wearing full body armor at all times
  • The proportion of Basra controlled by the Mehdi Army has not increased much since the conflict began
  • The proportion of Basra controlled by militias and criminal gangs (approximately 100 per cent) has not increased at all since the conflict began
  • Much of the ground lost by the government elsewhere in Iraq in the first few days of the conflict has been recaptured
  • The fact that the purported basis of the government’s action (an attack on criminal elements peripherally associated with various militias), endorsed by the US, is a transparent fiction, covering an attempt by one set of militias to weaken another, hasn’t worried anyone too much
  • Allowing for the necessity of air attacks on densely populated areas, civilian casualties have been modest, ensuring that the popularity of the US and British forces will increase still further
  • Maliki is still in Basra, proving the failure of Sadr’s attempts to oust him

But the crucial point underlying all of the argument is, that, simply by offering a truce, Sadr has proved he isn’t winning. After all, peace offers are for losers.

{ 42 comments }

1

gandhi 03.31.08 at 5:26 am

Cheney pushed al-Maliki to launch this brilliant campaign even though al-Maliki’s top general said it was months premature (he’s now facing the sack). The idea was to get Moqtada’s fist off the nation’s oil spiggot (a.k.a Basra).

Cheney doesn’t care about all the blood spilt, he just wants that goddam Oil Law signed! Then he can start playing hardball with those OPEC bastards who keep defying his wishes…

2

leinad 03.31.08 at 5:36 am

Nice roundup, John.

The need to have Iraq validate ones partisan affiliations makes for a blizzard of goalpost shifting, as usual. I just wish it was contained in Wingnutstan.

3

dsquared 03.31.08 at 6:28 am

It’s even simpler than that. By the fairly simple Napoleonic criterion (if you set out to take Vienna, etc), Maliki set out to disarm the Mehdi Army (and any other “guerillas and gangsters” yes yes but I don’t think any of us take that seriously). The Mehdi Army still have their guns and RPGs and have apparently taken delivery of some shiny new anti-helicopter missiles. Viz, the political victory is al-Sadr’s, because he’s once more demonstrated his ability to cause chaos and the inability of anyone to stop him. I would also note that he has proved in the past to be really good at regenerating losses.

4

Down and Out of Sài Gòn 03.31.08 at 6:36 am

From the first link: “However, Hazem al-Araji, an aide to Moqtada Sadr, told reporters that the cleric’s appeal to his militias would not mean handing in weapons.”

“Losers” who get to keep their weapons don’t sound much like losers to me. How are the wingnuts going to spin that one, I wonder?

5

leinad 03.31.08 at 6:48 am

daoosg: those weapons are crap! and not as cool as our AC-130U gunships etc. let them keep them.

6

seth edenbaum 03.31.08 at 6:49 am

Here is the text of the statement by Moqtada AlSadr that launched the current (Sunday March 30) cease-fire negotiations”:

Based upon our responsibilities in law [shariah] and for the sparing of Iraqi blood and for the protection of the reputation of the Iraqi people, and for their unity both in terms of people and in terms of land, and in preparation for its independence and liberation from the armies of oppression; and in order to put out the fires of fitna which the occupier and his followers wish to keep burning between Iraqi brothers, we call upon the beloved Iraqi people to measure up to their responsibility and their consciousness of law in sparing blood and preserving peace in Iraq, and its stability and its independence.
The following is resolved:
(1) Ending armed manifestations in the governate of Basra and all the other governates
(2) Ending of attacks and arbitrary illegal arrests
(3) Demand on the government to apply the law on general amnesty, and release all prisoners who had not had charges confirmed against them, and particularly prisoners belonging to the Sadrist trend
(4) We announce that we will renounce those who carry weapons and target the government and service agencies and institutions, or [political] party offices
(5) Cooperation with government agencies to bring about security and to charge those who commit crimes, according to legal [qanuniya] process
(6) We affirm that the Sadrist movement does not possess heavy weapons
(7) Efforts for the return to their residential areas of those who were forced out on account of security incidents
(8) We demand respect for human rights by the government in all of its security actions
(9) Working for the realization of development and services projects in all governates

7

John Quiggin 03.31.08 at 8:06 am

DD, I was going to write along the lines of your comment until I decided to check out what the warmongers were saying, and I was stunned to see them parse this as a famous victory. These guys would spin the retreat from Moscow as an advance on Paris.

8

leinad 03.31.08 at 8:08 am

Well, the Russofascists didn’t immediately take control of all of Europe, so I guess Quiggin’s idiotarian (there’s a word I haven’t seen recently) take on History fails him again.

9

Laleh 03.31.08 at 8:12 am

I mostly agree with DSquared, except that I don’t think it is Sadr (or only Sadr) who is causing “chaos”. That is buying too easily into the story the US and its client regime are trying to tell us.

In fact, if anything, Sadr has done two things: a) shown his control over various “branches” of Mahdi Army by enforcing a cease-fire; b) performed a sort of a “statesman”-like role by saying that brother doesn’t kill brother.

In the latter instance, he has taken a leaf out of (Lebanon’s) Nasrallah’s book who is not averse to making conciliatory gestures which end up paying off politically more significantly than would have militarily.

10

dsquared 03.31.08 at 9:24 am

a) shown his control over various “branches” of Mahdi Army by enforcing a cease-fire

yes, I’d certainly underestimated this, for example (if it does in fact hold).

11

John Emerson 03.31.08 at 11:08 am

The next day [Thursday] I moved around as much as I could. The common observation was this: There was nowhere the Mahdi either did not control or could not strike at will.

I am not sure what gunfight poured bullets onto the hotel on Friday. I just heard the gunfire and the windows shattering; as far as I know, no one in the hotel was hurt.

On Saturday I was talking with a colleague on my cellphone when a gun battle started right outside the hotel….

A while after the shooting stopped, some other residents of the hotel and I went outside. The street was littered with the shells of heavy machine guns where the Mahdi Army had fired toward another hotel, the Meerbad, where Ministry of Interior officials were staying, perhaps 50 yards away. “

Contrast:

“Troops and police, who have been backed by the United States and Britain, are in control of much of Basra, and local security forces are going house-to-house in some districts to confiscate ‘weapons’ and chase ‘the outlaws and the criminal and smuggling gangs,’ the [Iraqi government] spokesman said.”

12

John Emerson 03.31.08 at 11:19 am

Osama al-Nujaifi, a Sunni lawmaker who oversaw mediation in Baghdad, said representatives from al-Maliki’s Dawa Party and another Shiite party traveled to Iran to finalize talks with al-Sadr. Iran has close ties with both al-Sadr’s movement and al-Maliki, who spent several years in exile there. Al-Nujaifi said the agreement was brokered by the commander of Iran’s al-Quds Brigade, which is considered a terrorist organization by Washington.

13

Chris Williams 03.31.08 at 11:30 am

Yeah, but why bother? Isn’t this the antiwar equivalent of the ‘Galloway is a fool’ posts on Harry’s Place? Sure, the warbloggers are idiots, but that’s no longer news.

14

John Emerson 03.31.08 at 11:42 am

The depths of their shamelessness are still to be plumbed.

15

Alex 03.31.08 at 12:12 pm

Sadr(and for that matter Iran): like the milkman, he delivers.

16

Hidari 03.31.08 at 12:18 pm

‘Sure, the warbloggers are idiots, but that’s no longer news.’

I think the big surprise is that they are still around. One would really have thought they would have evaporated in a puff of shame by now, but no.

17

P O'Neill 03.31.08 at 12:52 pm

One thing missing from this episode was Tony Blair parroting lame White House talking points, which was a key feature of the previous American backed weak government crack-down on a Shiite militia i.e. the Hezbollians (Bush’s word) two years ago versus Israel.

18

HH 03.31.08 at 1:04 pm

There is no limit to the absurdity of the dogmatically frozen mind. Note that the history of Vietnam has now been revised in some circles to be a US victory that speeded the fall of world communism. McCain is currently campaigning on the nobility of the Vietnam war, as dirty and genocidal an atrocity as any America has ever perpetrated.

Thus, there is no outcome in Iraq, up to and including the complete destruction of US forces ther,e that cannot be represented as a “victory” by the American militarists. Nothing is beyond their powers of sophistry.

19

christian h. 03.31.08 at 1:08 pm

The human capacity for self-delusion never ceases to amaze.

There are two winners in this (political winners – which is what counts, contrary to the war bloggers computer game-based belief that only victory by force of arms is acceptable): Sadr, and Iran.

20

David W. 03.31.08 at 1:25 pm

I think what we need to realize is that for the warbloggers the “real war” IS the war of words they’re waging in hyperspace. Sort of like this guy:

An early and avid supporter of war, Goebbels did everything in his power to prepare the German people for a large scale military conflict. … By late 1943, the war had turned into a disaster for the Axis powers, but this only spurred Goebbels to intensify the propaganda by urging the Germans to accept the idea of total war and mobilization.

Sorry for the Godwin’s Law violation, but bringing this to a quick and merciful end is for the best.

21

HH 03.31.08 at 1:31 pm

This limitless delusional capacity is why I believe that financial exhaustion is the only factor that will end the US occupation of Iraq. There is nothing of a political or military nature that cannot be represented as proof of progress by the US militarists. As they see it, if violence goes down, it means we are successful, and if violence goes up it also means we are successful. Only cancellation of their Chinese credit card will end this folly.

22

qb 03.31.08 at 1:39 pm

funny thing about spin is that the people doing it never think that they’re among the people doing it.

23

Nell 03.31.08 at 2:06 pm

Another, equally convincing bullet point making the rounds of comment sections:

* Sadr is hiding in Iran, which sets a poor example for his fighters.

24

Alex 03.31.08 at 2:09 pm

A point, but one that hasn’t impressed the people most concerned; the fighters, whose morale seems entirely unaffected by Sadr’s absence at his books.

25

Nell 03.31.08 at 2:14 pm

@Alex #24: My ‘equally convincing’ was meant to be sarcastic.

26

lemuel pitkin 03.31.08 at 2:17 pm

There are two winners in this (political winners – which is what counts, contrary to the war bloggers computer game-based belief that only victory by force of arms is acceptable): Sadr, and Iran.

Why do you say this? Isn’t Maliki as much Iran’s clinet as America’s?

27

roger 03.31.08 at 2:33 pm

The Saudi Press, on the other hand, is touting this as a deep ploy by Iran to get rid of Sadr, using its puppet, Maliki.

The problem here is that we deploy these proper names – Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq – as though they were national unities like the U.S., in which foreign policy is set by the state. But in fact foreign policy that is set by the official state is always being flouted and contested by other factions in these states. There are several foreign policies going on at once.

In fact, the U.S. has gone through a similar history, from freebooters to the China lobby. The unity of U.S. foreign policy, at the present time, basically stems from the Democrats ceding foreign policy to the Republicans after the Gulf War. Before that, we should remember that the Republicans were not at all averse to pursuing their own factional foreign policy, whether that meant pursuing a private, right wing financed war in Nicaragua or interfering with LBJ’s negotiations in the Vietnam war.

28

JP Stormcrow 03.31.08 at 2:38 pm

I think what we need to realize is that for the warbloggers the “real war” IS the war of words they’re waging in hyperspace.

Remember the war against I-raq
That’s one where we all belong
Though we ended up stuck in quagmire.
We had fun on our blogs.

(h/t to Tom Lehrer)

29

John Emerson 03.31.08 at 2:44 pm

I doubt that many warbloggers are calling Maliki’s attack “a defining moment” now, the way Bush did about two days ago.

30

dsquared 03.31.08 at 4:19 pm

I recall the glory days of 1972, when the IRA were totally unable to prevent the British Army from deploying nearly anywhere they wanted to in Belfast. Truly this was the point at which the terrorists were defeated, and a mere 25 years later we proved how thoroughly they had been defeated by allowing them a power-sharing agreement.

31

Chris Williams 03.31.08 at 4:31 pm

‘nearly’ anywhere? Surely the (achieved) point of Operation Motorman was ‘anywhere’?

32

dsquared 03.31.08 at 4:33 pm

You’re quite right of course. I would guess that there are no more “no go” areas in Basra or Sadr City too, underlining the magnitude of Maliki’s victory.

33

christian h. 03.31.08 at 6:13 pm

Why do you say this? Isn’t Maliki as much Iran’s clinet as America’s?

I think it likely that all the major Shiite groups in Iraq receive some Iranian money – which does not make them clients of Iran. The reason I believe Iran comes out as a winner here is that they were the ones brokering the peace, in Qom! As Juan Cole writes:

The entire episode underlines how powerful Iran has become in Iraq. The Iranian government had called on Saturday for the fighting to stop. And by Sunday evening it had negotiated at least a similar call from Sadr (whether the fighting actually stops remains to be seen and depends on local commanders and on whether al-Maliki meets Sadr’s conditions).

34

Dave 03.31.08 at 6:35 pm

I recall the glory days of 1972…

I thought you said you weren’t born then?

35

mpowell 03.31.08 at 7:18 pm


I recall the glory days of 1972…


I thought you said you weren’t born then?

Maybe he was born in 1972 and was simply a precocious child?

36

seth edenbaum 03.31.08 at 8:11 pm

Iran is a not a winner in this, but only a powerful party among others: trying to hold on, and doing a fair job of it (unlike Maliki).
The winner as laleh points out is Sadr, and perhaps Iraqi nationalism as such.

37

dsquared 03.31.08 at 9:19 pm

I was born in October 1972, if anyone wants to send me a present. I “recall” it in the Bardic sense; I was bringing that terrible summer alive to you through the power of my poetry, you Philistine bastards.

38

Quo Vadis 03.31.08 at 9:34 pm

The one significant point that is missing from the conversation here is the extent to which the situation in Iraq has changed over the last year. Sadr’s willingness to stand down his army rather than to engage in a protracted struggle and thereby demonstrate the weakness of the national government is telling.

Ultimately, when effecting political reconciliation the various existing powers are either eliminated or they are integrated into the political process. Sadr sees more of a future for himself in Iraq as the leader of a political constituency within the democratic process than as than as the leader of an insurgency that opposes it. This is not something I would have predicted a year ago.

Whether this represents a win for the US depends upon how one interprets the poorly defined US goals.

39

marto 04.01.08 at 6:28 am

The phrase “easily countered by staying indoors and wearing full body armor at all times” has a certain ring to it.

40

Tom Doyle 04.01.08 at 12:30 pm

Over a year ago, February 1, 2007 , Zbigniew Brzezinski testified before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. His testimony included proposals for ending the war. The proposals as such, and also certain subjects he mentions in his elaboration of the proposals are relevant to this thread and its recent antecedents. Of particular interest is his observations about Iraqi insurgency and insurgents, militias, their historical and political contexts; the Iraqi government; the occupation; how the conflict can and should be resolved.

ZBIG
In my view, it is time for the White House to come to terms with two central realities. First, the war in Iraq is a historic strategic and moral calamity undertaken under false assumptions. It is undermining America’s global legitimacy. Its collateral civilian casualties, as well as some abuses, are tarnishing America’s moral credentials. Driven by Manichean impulses and imperial hubris, it is intensifying regional instability.

Secondly, only a political strategy that is historically relevant rather than reminiscent of colonial tutelage can provide the needed framework for a tolerable resolution of both the war in Iraq and intensifying regional tensions.
[…]
Ending the occupation and shaping a regional security dialogue should be the mutually reinforcing goals…..The quest to achieve these goals should involve four steps.

First, the United States should reaffirm explicitly and unambiguously its determination to leave Iraq in a reasonably short period of time…Ambiguity regarding the duration of the occupation in fact encourages unwillingness to compromise and intensifies the underlying civil strife. Moreover, such a public declaration is needed to allay fears in the Middle East of a new and enduring American imperial hegemony. Right or wrong, many view the establishment of such a hegemony as the primary reason for the American intervention in a region only recently free of colonial domination. That perception should be discredited from the highest U.S. level.

Second, the United States should announce that it is undertaking talks with the Iraqi leaders to jointly set with them a date by which U.S. military disengagement should be completed and the resulting setting of such a date should be announced as a joint decision. In the meantime, the U.S. should avoid military escalation.

[A]ll the Iraqi leaders, including those who do not reside within the Green Zone, [must be] in [these talks], because the very dialogue itself will help to identify the authentic…leaders which the self-confidence and capacity to stand on their own legs without U.S. military protection. Only Iraqi leaders who can exercise real power beyond the Green Zone can eventually reach a genuine Iraqi accommodation. The painful reality is that much of this current Iraqi regime, characterized by the administration as representative of the Iraqi people, defines itself largely by its physical location: the four square-mile-large U.S. fortress within Baghdad, protected by a wall in places 15 feet thick, manned by heavily armed U.S. military, popularly known as the Green Zone.

Third, [Iraqi leaders, should invite US, Iraq’s neighboring states, and perhaps some other Muslim countries to talks about keeping Iraq stable as US occupiers pull out; and to a subsequent conference regarding regional stability.]…The United States and the Iraqi leadership need to engage Iraq’s neighbors in a serious discussion regarding the region’s security problems, but such discussions cannot be undertaken while the U.S. is perceived as an occupier for an indefinite duration…Iran and Syria have no reason, however, to help the United States consolidate a permanent regional hegemony…[I]ronically,.. both Iran and Syria have lately called for a regional dialogue, exploiting thereby the self-defeating character of the largely passive and mainly sloganeering U.S. diplomacy.

Fourth, and finally, concurrently the United States should activate a credible and energetic effort to finally reach an Israeli- Palestinian peace, making it clear in the process as to what the basic parameters of such a final accommodation ought to involve.

FULL TRANSCRIPT

41

mds 04.01.08 at 1:02 pm

Sadr’s willingness to stand down his army rather than to engage in a protracted struggle and thereby demonstrate the weakness of the national government is telling.

Sadr sees more of a future for himself in Iraq as the leader of a political constituency within the democratic process than as than as the leader of an insurgency that opposes it.

How do you get the pig to sit still while you apply the lipstick?

42

SpotWeld 04.01.08 at 1:13 pm

Would it be about right to call all this a “who run Bartertown” moment?

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