Just when the media in the US was getting ready to call the war in Iraq over, the US military and its client regime stationed in the Green Zone decided to take on the Iraqi population that looks to Muqtada al-Sadr and their armed forces. One can look at this as the US military taking sides in what is essentially an intra-Shia struggle or as an attempt by the Green Zone government to wipe out Washington’s most consistent and popular opposition. It can also be perceived as just one more bungling attempt by the US military to gain control over the unpredictable forces it unleashed when it invaded Iraq in 2003.
Meanwhile , the US media is portraying the battles—some of which are military and others that are more akin to public protest—as a battle between Iraqi and US forces against something they call “Sadrist forces” and the Mahdi Army. This portrayal seems designed to isolate the Iraqis fighting against the Green Zone government and the US occupiers as something other than real Iraqis, when one could reasonably argue that it is these forces that are actually the genuine Iraqis while the Green Zone politicians and their military forces are actually collaborators with the occupying military. These latter forces include the Badr Brigades, whose leaders have openly collaborated with Washington since well before the March 2003 invasion. Most observers agree that these forces compose the bulk of the Iraqi security forces.
But, say the US generals and their Iraqi employers, the Iraqis being attacked are really working for Iran. Very little, if any, verifiable evidence exists to support this claim, although it is probably quite true that they get aid from Tehran. However, in a war against an occupier, there is always a friendly government or two that is willing to help out the resistance forces. The anti-British colonists in the North America depended on France, the Vietnamese depended on the Soviet Union and China, and so on. These outside countries certainly have reasons of their own for their assistance, but to make the simplistic argument that because a group of insurgents accepts aid from an outside country makes them an appendage or a pawn of that country is to deny the very reason for their resistance—to live in their country without any foreign forces occupying their land. Then again, perhaps this attempt to tie the Mahdi army to Iran is all part of some plan to legitimize an attack on Iran by the US before November 2008.
According to western news reports, the anti-government forces inspired by al-Sadr believe that a major reason for the timing of the assault on their forces in Basra and elsewhere is to eliminate them as a political force. Why? Because elections are coming up in Iraq later this year and most polls project Sadrist candidates to win most of the seats. Since Washington knows that its pawns inside the Green Zone cannot win an election via traditional political means, US troops are backing up the Green Zone military with bombers, helicopter gunships and forces on the ground. Al-Sadr has demanded that the Green Zone forces leave the areas they have moved into in recent days while al-Maliki issued an ultimatum on March 26, 2008 giving the Mahdi Army 72 hours to disarm.
Major General Kevin Bergner told the press on March 26th that the battle “is not a battle against the [Mehdi Army] nor is it a proxy war between the United States and Iran. It is [the] government of Iraq taking the necessary action to deal with criminals on the streets.” This portrayal is of course quite subjective. In the same manner that US labels almost all Sunni insurgents “Al Qaida,” they call most anti-government Shia resistance forces “criminals and outlaws.” While both elements of the insurgency may certainly contain elements to whom the US labels apply, the reality is that these labels are primarily for the consumption of the US public. After all, if most of us here in the US think the Pentagon is involved in hunting down criminals and terrorists, than there is less likely to be opposition to the surge in violence.
Whether the warring groups are breakaway factions of the Mahdi Army like some US media and military claim or whether they are legitimate members of al-Sadr’s forces, the fact remains that the armed elements battling the Green Zone and US militaries are a reasonably large and well-armed opposition force determined to resist the US occupation and its clients. This is in the tradition of the Shia, especially in modern Iraq, where Muqtada al-Sadr’s grandfather Mohammad al-Sadr led a revolt against the British occupiers in the 1920s. As the quote from al-Sadr aide aide Abdul-Hadi al-Mohammedawi in the headline to this piece makes clear, the fact that the US has decided once again to attempt to eliminate them does not bode well for Washington or those Iraqis that have chosen to collaborate with them. Indeed, it does not appear to bode well for any Iraqis hoping for a peaceful 2008.