Middle East News
ANALYSIS: Iraq crackdown strengthens radical cleric and Iran
Apr 1, 2008, 15:50 GMT
Cairo - When Iraq's Prime Minister launched an unprecedented offensive to assert his government's control over southern oil-rich Basra last week, he certainly was not planning what came about.
Nuri al-Maliki, his ministers and generals vowed, and still do, to go after militias and 'outlaws' to the end. The main target of the offensive, though not officially declared, has been Mahdi Army of firebrand Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.
But within days of the offensive, Sadrist militiamen were still keeping their turf and weapons, and giving government troops a hard time. Hundreds of people were killed and injured in the offensive.
Many say the fighting in Basra, which spread to Iraq's southern cities and the Sadrists' strongholds in Baghdad, exposed the fact that Iraqi security forces were not prepared for this large-scale operation.
'I think the operation in Basra was not planned. It was hastily carried out,' Osama al-Nujaifi, a member of Iraq's parliament, told Deutsche Presse-Agentur, dpa.
The timing of the offensive and the way it was directed were wrong, al-Nujaifi said.
Al-Maliki himself flew to Basra to conduct the offensive from there.
John McCain, the US Republican presidential candidate, was surprised by the blitz offensive.
'Al-Maliki decided to take on this operation himself without consulting the Americans,' McCain said Monday.
'I am surprised that he would take it on himself to go down and take charge of a military offensive,' McCain said.
Iraqi Defence Minister Abdel-Qader al-Obeidi conceded that troops were meeting far more resistance than expected.
Several multinational forces officials were aware that a major crackdown against militias in Basra was in the offing, but were led to believe by Iraqi army commanders it would be launched in June, according to media reports.
When it was launched abruptly last Tuesday, some British officials said they had been given less than 24 hours notice, British newspaper The Times reported.
Five days into the battle, al-Maliki found himself turning to his political foe, al-Sadr, for a way out.
Behind the scenes, al-Maliki's emissaries were meeting with al- Sadr in Iran under the auspices of Brigadier-General Qasim Suleymani from the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, media reports revealed.
Al-Sadr, currently in the Iranian holy city of Qom, suddenly called his militiamen off the streets on Sunday a day after he defied al-Maliki and called his government a 'dictatorship.'
Al-Sadr emerged as peace-maker and Iran consolidated its position as the main power broker in Iraq, analysts think.
'It has now become clear how far Iranian interference in Iraq's internal affairs has gone. It is clear how Iran is supporting rival factions involved in the fighting in Basra,' al-Nujaifu said.
'I think this interference will increase in the future,' he adds.