Critics of the Iraqi army’s recent assault on militias in Basra have focused on the Maliki government’s motives. But the real concern should be the competence—or lack thereof—it displayed.
Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies writes that the “fighting, which the government portrays as a crackdown on criminality, is better seen as a power grab, an effort by [Prime Minister Nouri al-] Maliki and the most powerful Shiite political parties to establish their authority over Basra and the parts of Baghdad.”
Vali Nasr of Tufts University says “that Maliki is completely irrelevant. The real show is between Hakim and Sadr.” That would be Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, head of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq and its militia, the Badr Organization, vs. Moqtada al-Sadr, head of the Sadr Trend and its militia, the Jaish al Mahdi.
It is usually a safe bet to look for hidden motives in the morass of Iraqi politics—but in this case there is a danger of being overly sophisticated. The Iraqi army was ordered down to Basra by Maliki, not by Hakim or anyone else. The prime minister flew down himself to supervise its operations.
And whatever his motives (and what politician doesn’t take politics into account in making any decision?), Maliki has right on his side.
Militias have been the bane of Iraq since 2003—and nowhere more so than in Basra. The failure of British forces to keep the peace ceded control of this vital port to warring groups of thugs.