FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Futile Surge

by GARETH PORTER

A newly released Wikileaks document on Iraq and the new political alignment between Moqtada al-Sadr and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki both provide fresh evidence that Gen. David Petraeus’s war against Shi’a militias in 2007-2008 was a futile exercise.

The Wikileaks document is an intelligence report identifying the Shi’a commander who Petraeus said was the Iranian-backed rogue militia leader behind the kidnapping and killing of five U.S. troops in Karbala in January 2007. In fact, according to the leaked document, it was a Mahdi Army commander.

That new information about the Karbala operation confirms earlier evidence that in 2007 a political axis linking Iran, Sadr and Maliki was working to foil Petraeus’s assault on the Mahdi Army and to hasten the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq.

That political alignment is not a reflection of Iranian dominance over Iraqi politics but of a convergence of interests among Shi’a actors in the Iraq conflict.

The same political alignment has now resurfaced as a pivotal development in the formation of a new Iraqi government. Maliki and Sadr have agreed to form a new Shi’a-dominated government, and Maliki traveled to Iran last week to meet Sadr and publicly thanked Iran for its help in bringing Sadr into his bloc of deputies.

The Maliki bloc now has two more votes than the Sunni-based al-Iraqiya bloc and hopes to bring in the Kurds to collect enough votes to form a new government.

The December 2006 intelligence report in the Wikileaks collection details a plan to kidnap U.S. soldiers in Baghdad. The report reveals that the militia commander in charge of the operation, Ashar al-Dulaimi, was a subordinate to a “senior Jaysh al-Mahdi [Mahdi Army] commander” named “Hasan” or “Salim”.

Dulaimi was a key commander of the Mahdi Army’s “secret cells”, which had been trained by Hezbollah officers working in cooperation with Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

Sadr had never hidden his military cooperation with Hezbollah. Despite Sadr’s open criticism of Iranian policy toward Iraq for its backing of the rival Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI), he also sent troops to be trained in Iran.

The Mahdi Army plan to kidnap U.S. troops did not unfold in Baghdad but in Karbala, where five U.S. troops were abducted in a raid on the Provincial Joint Coordination Center Jan. 20, 2007 and later found dead. The U.S. military tracked Dulaimi to Sadr City and killed him in May 2007.

Petraeus’s spokesman, Gen. Kevin Bergner, later accused Iran of having directed the Karbala attack though it control of networks of “Special Groups” armed and trained by Iran. Petraeus maintained consistently that Iran was backing “rogue” units that had left the Mahdi Army.

The Wikileaks documents show, however, that Petraeus and his command in Iraq were well aware that al-Dulaimi was a Mahdi Army commander in charge of secret operations. The Petraeus “Special Groups” line was aimed at hiding the fact that the U.S. command was determined to destroy as much of the Mahdi Army as possible by claiming that it was actually attacking rogue Shi’a militias.

The New York Times story on Iran-related Wikileaks documents by Michael Gordon, which portrays the documents as reconfirming the Petraeus line on Iran-backed “Special Groups”, highlighted the intelligence report on Dulaimi but omitted the central fact that it clearly identifies him as a Mahdi Army commander.

The evidence also indicates that the Mahdi Army Karbala operation was done with the full knowledge of the Maliki government.

Col. Michael X. Garrett, then commander of the Fourth Brigade combat team in Karbala, confirmed to this writer in December 2008 that the Karbala attack “was definitely an inside operation”. Both the provincial governor and police chief were suspected of having collaborated in the operation, Garrett said.

Gov. Aqil al-Khazali was not a Sadrist but a member of Maliki’s own Dawa Party and was presumably acting in line with a policy that came from Baghdad.

That was a sign that Maliki, Sadr and Iran were still cooperating secretly, even as Maliki was ostensibly cooperating with the U.S. military against Sadr.

Maliki maintained ties with Sadr, because he needed his support. Sadr, who had 30 members in the Iraqi parliament, had supplied the key votes that installed Maliki as prime minister at an April 2006 meeting in the Freen Zone over which Iranian Quds Force commander Brig. Gen. Qasem Soleimani presided, according to a story by McClatchy newspapers.

The Mahdi Army had also played the key role in 2006 and early 2007 on behalf of the entire Shia Alliance in the pivotal battle of Baghdad against Sunni insurgents by carrying out an “ethnic cleansing” campaign against Sunnis in a number of neighbourhoods.

Sadrist deputies had left the government parliamentary bloc in September 2006, and Sadr attacked Maliki’s renewal of the United Nations mandate for the foreign military presence in November 2006.

In early 2007, however, Maliki’s national security adviser, Nassar al-Rubaei, told Reuters that they were negotiating on a proposal for a timetable for withdrawal to heal the rift with Sadr. He also expressed dismay at the U.S. military desire to “lure Sadr into direct confrontation”.

The Sadrists worked out an arrangement with Maliki under which U.S. troops could be kept out of Sadr City. Iraqi troops would take the lead in establishing security in the Sadrist enclave, and U.S. troops would not intervene unless there was resistance by the Mahdi Army.

But the U.S. military refused to honour the agreement and carried out large-scale sweeps and even airstrikes in Sadr City beginning in early 2007, claiming that they were only targeting those “Special Groups”.

The Mahdi Army command for secret military operations apparently planned their counter-attack in Karbala in the hope of having some leverage over the U.S. military in Iraq.

Even as Maliki was ostensibly agreeing to U.S. attacks on Mahdi Army commanders in Sadr City, Petraeus told author Bing West in September 2007 that the political link between Maliki and Sadr was far from being broken. “JAM [Jaysh al- Mahdi] has its hooks into the ministries,” Petraeus told him. “It took years to get this point, and it will take some time to get rid of it. Maliki is working his way through it.”

A series of moves from September 2007 to mid-2008 marked the unfolding of a strategy by Maliki, supported by Iran, to get Sadr to curb the Mahdi Army’s role in order to maneuver the George W. Bush administration into negotiating a timetable for total withdrawal.

Iran prevailed on Sadr to agree to a unilateral ceasefire in September 2007 and to end fighting in Basra and Sadr City in late March and early May 2008. The latter two agreements prevented U.S. troops from carrying out major offensives in both cases.

The quid pro quo for Sadr’s agreement to those ceasefires appears to have been the promise of a U.S. troop withdrawal.

Maliki’s renewal of the alliance with Sadr on the way to forming a new Shi’a government has brought strong protest from the Barack Obama administration. U.S. Ambassador James Jeffries has repeatedly said in recent weeks that Sadr’s inclusion in an Iraqi government is unacceptable to Washington.

But that protest has only underlined the fact that the United States is the odd man out in the Shi’a-dominated politics of Iraq.

GARETH PORTER is an investigative historian and journalist with Inter-Press Service specialising in U.S. national security policy. The paperback edition of his latest book, “Perils of Dominance: Imbalance of Power and the Road to War in Vietnam“, was published in 2006.

 

Gareth Porter is an independent investigative journalist and winner of the 2012 Gellhorn Prize for journalism. He is the author of the newly published Manufactured Crisis: The Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare.

More articles by:
July 28, 2016
Paul Street
Politician Speak at the DNC
Jeffrey St. Clair
Night of the Hollow Men: Notes From the Democratic Convention
Renee Parsons
Blame It on the Russians
Herbert Dyer, Jr.
Is it the Cops or the Cameras? Putting Police Brutality in Historical Context
Russell Mokhiber
Dems Dropping the N Word: When in Trouble, Blame Ralph
Howard Lisnoff
The Elephant in the Living Room
Pepe Escobar
The Real Secret of the South China Sea
Ramzy Baroud
Farewell to Yarmouk: A Palestinian Refugee’s Journey from Izmir to Greece
John Laforge
Wild Turkey with H-Bombs: Failed Coup Raise Calls for Denuclearization
Dave Lindorff
Moving Beyond the Sanders Campaign
Jill Richardson
There’s No Such Thing as a “Free Market”
Patrick Cockburn
Erdogan Moves Against the Gulen Movement in Turkey
Winslow Myers
Beyond Drift
Edward Martin - Mateo Pimentel
Who Are The Real Pariahs This Election?
Jan Oberg
The Clintons Celebrated, But Likely a Disaster for the Rest of the World
Johnny Gaunt
Brexit: the British Working Class has Just Yawned Awake
Mark Weisbrot
Attacking Trump for the Few Sensible Things He Says is Both Bad Politics and Bad Strategy
Thomas Knapp
Election 2016: Think Three’s a Crowd? Try 2,000
Corrine Fletcher
White Silence is Violence: How to be a White Accomplice
July 27, 2016
Richard Moser
The Party’s Over
M. G. Piety
Smoke and Mirrors in Philadelphia
Jeffrey St. Clair
The Humiliation Games: Notes on the Democratic Convention
Arun Gupta
Bernie Sanders’ Political Revolution Splinters Apart
John Eskow
The Loneliness of the American Leftist
Guillermo R. Gil
A Metaphoric Short Circuit: On Michelle Obama’s Speech at the DNC
Norman Pollack
Sanders, Our Tony Blair: A Defamation of Socialism
Claire Rater, Carol Spiegel and Jim Goodman
Consumers Can Stop the Overuse of Antibiotics on Factory Farms
Guy D. Nave
Make America Great Again?
Sam Husseini
Why Sarah Silverman is a Comedienne
Dave Lindorff
No Crooked Sociopaths in the White House
Dan Bacher
The Hired Gun: Jerry Brown Snags Bruce Babbitt as New Point Man For Delta Tunnels
Peter Lee
Trumputin! And the DNC Leak(s)
David Macaray
Interns Are Exploited and Discriminated Against
Brett Warnke
Storm Clouds Over Philly
Ann Garrison
Rwanda, the Clinton Dynasty, and the Case of Dr. Léopold Munyakazi
Chris Zinda
Snakes of Deseret
July 26, 2016
Andrew Levine
Pillory Hillary Now
Kshama Sawant
A Call to Action: Walk Out from the Democratic National Convention!
Russell Mokhiber
The Rabble Rise Together Against Bernie, Barney, Elizabeth and Hillary
Jeffrey St. Clair
Don’t Cry For Me, DNC: Notes From the Democratic Convention
Angie Beeman
Why Doesn’t Middle America Trust Hillary? She Thinks She’s Better Than Us and We Know It
Paul Street
An Update on the Hate…
Fran Shor
Beyond Trump vs Clinton
Ellen Brown
Japan’s “Helicopter Money” Play: Road to Hyperinflation or Cure for Debt Deflation?
Richard W. Behan
The Banana Republic of America: Democracy Be Damned
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail