by William H. White
March 28, 2008
First Offensive Underway
The United States military offensive against Iran may have begun with a swiftly escalating series of operations directed against the Mahdi Army, a Shiite militia led by cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, which had been observing a six month old cease-fire.
Overall circumstances in support of this conclusion:
* If attacks against Iran are to commence soon, then it makes sense to weaken those forces considered likely to irrupt in response to such an attack: Better to attack those forces first and separately, throwing them off balance and subjecting them to prolonged siege, thereby depleting their assets and revealing their larger weapon capabilities and stores, prior to an attack on Iran itself;
* If attacks against Iran are to commence soon, then it makes sense to force an end to the Mahdi Army six month cease-fire and to establish general conditions of conflict, during which accusations and operations against Iran would appear less unprovoked;
* The recent Bush and Cheney "peace" trips occurred within the planning and operating context of not only the current offensive, but also part of an event platform for operations whose scale and duration certainly extend beyond the forces deployed in the port of Basra during the last week in March, leaving the distinct impression US actions are plan rather than event driven.
Iraqi circumstantial elements:
* Operations against the Mahdi Army are large scale, coordinated attacks: Starting with raids and arrests in the Shiite neighborhoods in Baghdad and following-up immediately by a claimed 30,000 man police and Iraqi army offensive in Basra, which required months of planning and logistical preparation, even if largely imagined;
* The operations were timed to occur immediately after the Bush-Cheney Middle-East trips and before the administration's presentation of its force level plans to Congress;
* The operations were directed against what US and Iraqi governments say are Iranian assets in Iraq: US and Iraqi government officials have repeatedly charged that the elements attacked were those supported by Iran;
* The local police and army units in Basra were bypassed: long considered unreliable, the Basra police and army units, which were expected to melt away in any general insurrection, have been largely replaced (and possibly contained/detained) by units sent from the north in the Iraqi government's single largest military operation;
* Sadr's call for civil peace demonstrations in Baghdad to protest US attacks were met with an unprecedented three day, 24 hour curfew;
* Throughout all of this, US forces have been held almost entirely in reserve, with their likely use to occur as each Mahdi Army element is fixed in defensive positions by the Iraqi army, depending on circumstances, such as hitting Mahdi Army strong points, supporting weakening Iraqi government operations, and killing/capturing Sadr.
* General Petraeus claimed in a BBC interview about the Green Zone attacks, "Tehran had trained, equipped and funded insurgents who fired the barrage of mortars and rockets."
* General Petraeus in a videoconference with the president on Monday, during the briefings reported by officials, recommended taking "up to two months" to evaluate security in Iraq before considering additional withdrawals.