Saturday, April 19, 2008

Petraeus Hid Maliki Resistance to U.S. Troops in Basra

Go to IPS original
WASHINGTON, Apr 17 (IPS) - In testimony before Congressional committees last week, Gen. David Petraeus portrayed Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's late March offensive in Basra as a poorly planned effort that departed from what U.S. officials had expected.

What Petraeus did not reveal is that al-Maliki was deliberately upsetting a Petraeus plan to put U.S. and British forces into Basra for a months-long operation to eliminate the Mahdi Army from the city.

Petraeus referred to a plan for an operation to be carried out in Basra that he and his staff had developed with the head of the Basra Operational Command, Gen. Mohan al-Furayji. But Petraeus carefully dodged a question from Sen. Hillary Clinton about what resources he was planning to deploy to Basra and over what length of time.

Clinton evidently suspected that the plan envisioned the deployment of U.S. troops on a large scale in the Shiite south, despite the fact that the Iraqi government is supposed to be responsible for security there. Petraeus responded vaguely that it was "a phased plan over the course of a number of months during which different actions were going to be pursued."

Reports in the British press indicated, however, that the campaign plan was based on the assumption that British and U.S. troops would play the central role in an effort to roll up the Mahdi Army in Basra. The Independent reported Mar. 21 that Gen. Furayji had publicly declared there would be a "final battle" in Basra, probably during the summer, and that Britain had already promised to provide military forces for the campaign. It quoted "senior government sources" as saying that Prime Minister Gordon Brown's earlier pledge to cut the number of British troops in the south from 4,100 to 2,500 would "almost certainly be postponed until at least the end of the year".

Two days later, the Sunday Mirror quoted a "senior U.S. military source" as saying that the "coalition" would turn its attention to Basra once the "huge operation" in Mosul against al Qaeda and nationalist Sunni insurgents was completed, and that the U.S. was prepared to redeploy "thousands" of U.S. marines to Basra, if necessary.

This plan for a major foreign troop deployment to the south for the first time since the U.S. battles against the Mahdi Army in April 2004 did not sit well with al-Maliki. In 2006 and 2007, he had repeatedly blocked U.S. proposals that U.S. and Iraqi forces target Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army in Baghdad as well as in the south.

When Vice President Dick Cheney, who had previously played the "bad cop" in the George W. Bush administration's relations with al-Maliki, visited Baghdad in mid-March, one of his objectives was to get al-Maliki to go along with the Petraeus plan to eliminate the commanding position of Sadr's forces in Basra. Al-Maliki has told Iraqi officials that Cheney put pressure on him to go along with the Basra operation, according one Iraqi source.


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