Throughout the past year, the US has repeatedly gone to the brink of a direct clash with Sadr and then retreated.
The latest provocative spark comes from the Shiite city of Amara. Reuters has the following report:
The violence in Amara, in Maysan province where militias and tribes exert huge influence, started after the disappearance of the brother of a senior Mehdi Army leader. Suspecting he had been detained by police, militias attacked police stations with rocket-propelled grenades and and rifle fire, [a security] source said.
The British formally tranferred control of Amara to Iraqi security two months ago. Now, the BBC is reporting that British troops are poised to move back into the city.
Will this latest clash be the start of something big? Or, will various envoys arrive on the scene to negotiate another retreat from the brink?
Time will tell.
But one thing is quite clear: there are some forces spoiling for a fight with Sadr.
CNN’s military analyst, General David Grange, was just on the air (no transcript available yet [Update: here is the link to the CNN transcript; thanks TR) and he was totally adament: this is a potential turning point and the US has no choice but to launch a ruthless assault on the city of Amara.
[Y]ou have to be ruthless like Grant during the Civil War. And right now they cannot let the militia get away with taking over a city. Right now, it’s a test. And if they let this go, it will definitely be — definitely be — not maybe — a turning point for the results of what will happen in Iraq.
The only thing right now, in a situation like this, that those that are violating the law of Iraq understand is ruthless pursuit. That’s all they understand. And I would seal off the complete city. And I would go in, hopefully not do a lot of collateral damage, but if it happens, so be it.
If Grange represents anything close to the rage of the military brass in Baghdad then Amara may, indeed, become a test case of sorts, not only a battleground for clashes between US/UK forces and Sadr, but also a battleground between the military brass in Iraq and the political forces that have repeatedly retreated from the brink of a direct confrontation with Sadr.
Grange’s rage may be quite indicative of a larger frustration within the military. How else to explain yesterday’s the extraodinarily gloomy vote of no-confidence articulated by the top US military spokesman in Iraq, General William Caldwell.
As the Financial Times reports, Caldwell barely contained his frustration at Iraq political pressure to retreat from a confrontation with Sadrist forces:
The US military wants Mr Maliki to stop protecting radical Shia groups such as the Mahdi Army militia loyal to cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. In a virtually unprecedented criticism of the Iraqi leadership, Gen Caldwell said US forces had been forced to release Sadrist organiser Mazin al-Saâ€™edi on Wednesday, one day after his arrest on suspicion of involvement in violence, at the prime ministerâ€™s request.
Bush may think Maliki is doing a “heck of a job,” but Caldwell and the rest of the military brass seem to have run out of patience.
Can Bush resist military pressure for a new deal–one that might include the “collapse” of the Maliki government and risk a direct, bloody and costly clash between US troops and Sadrist forces–until after the November mid-term elections?
Military Brass vs. Rove. Place your bets.