Friday, June 20, 2008

Operation Promise of Peace in Maysan Province


On June 19, 2008 Prime Minister Maliki launched his fourth military operation since March. The offensive is aimed at Maysan province, the only one in Iraq that is controlled by the Sadrists. The province also borders Iran and is the main hub for its military operations in Iraq. Operation Promise of Peace, like those in Basra and Sadr City, is aimed at breaking up the power of Muqtada al-Sadr’s movement, and limiting Iran’s interference.

Maliki’s Offensive

Operation Promise of Peace follows the script Maliki set with his March campaign in Basra. First additional police and army units were sent in, the borders of the province were sealed off, Maliki offered an amnesty to anyone that turned in their weapons, and the government has attempted to recruit new security forces loyal to Baghdad.

Unlike Basra and Sadr City however, Sadr changed his tactics. Rather than fight security forces and lose followers that he can’t quickly replace, Sadr called on his movement to cooperate as long as the security forces followed the law. The Sadr office in Amara was turned over to the government and militiamen began turning in their guns or dumping them as a result. At the same time, many of his top fighters and Mahdi commanders fled the province to places like Iran to avoid arrest.

The agreement between the two sides was strained however when police arrested the Sadrist deputy governor, who also serves as mayor of Amara and two provincial council members. The Sadrists claimed the government was turning the military operation into a political one to weaken their movement in the province, something that was apparent from the beginning.

Amara is also a regional base for Iranian military operations in Iraq. The Revolutionary Guards uses it as a headquarters for their arms smuggling and planning within the country. Iraqi military officials say they are going to work throughout the province, including the areas along the Iranian border that are used by criminals and Iranian operatives. As the government has cracked down on the Mahdi Army they have found more and more Iranian weapons in their possession. The Maysan operation therefore, is also aimed at breaking up the Iranian supply lines to the militia.

Background

Maysan province has been both a stronghold and battleground for Sadr’s forces. In January 2005 Iraq held local elections. Unlike in other provinces, Maysan was the only one where Sadrists openly participated. They gained control of the provincial council and the governorship. Norwegian researcher and writer Reidar Visser has claimed that it has been the best run of Iraq’s 18 provinces because it provides services to its public.

At the same time the Sadrists and their main rival the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (SIIC) have often fought for control there. In 2006 for example, there was open fighting in the streets of Amara between Mahdi militiamen and the SIIC controlled police.

The Sadrists were also accused of trying to impose a strict Islamic code upon the populace, shutting down music shops, dictating the clothes of young people, etc. It took the city’s local tribes to end the moral police and stop the fighting.

Conclusion

Prime Minister Maliki seems intent on dismantling his main rival the Sadrists. He has promised further operations after Promise of Peace is finished. The Mahdi Army has been put on the defensive as a result. Its commanders and fighters are either fleeing to other parts of Iraq or to Iran to escape arrest. Many political leaders of the Sadrist movement have also ended up in jail. At the same time, Sadr’s decision not to fight as happened in Basra and Sadr City shows that he is adapting to the new circumstances. The governor of Maysan and the majority of the provincial council are still Sadrists, so perhaps he is hoping they can keep their positions and co-exist with the government forces, thus preserving some of his power. This all comes before the planned provincial elections in October 2008 where the Sadrists were hoping to spread their control beyond Maysan. What will really determine whether Maliki will be successful in his plans is whether he comes though his promises of money for reconstruction, jobs and services for these cleared areas. He has promised $100 million for Basra and $150 million for Sadr City. So far reports are that only the U.S. military has spent any real large amounts of money on winning over the population. Security is an important step in stabilizing Iraq, but until Maliki can actually provide for his people his government will not have their support.

SOURCES

Burns, John, “Precarious Cease-Fire in Amara Holds,” New York Times, 10/22/06

Gamel, Kim, “Al-Sadr followers warn against arrests,” Associated Press, 6/16/08

Reid, Robert, “Iraq to expand crackdown,” Associated Press, 4/3/08

Ridolfo, Kathleen, “Iraq: Al-Sadr Refuses to Meet Baghdad Delegation In Iran,” Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 5/4/08

Roggio, Bill, “Iraqi offensive underway against the Mahdi Army in Maysan,” Long War Journal.org, 6/14/08
- “Iraqi security forces ramp up for Maysan operation,” Long War Journal.org, 6/17/08

Tavernise, Sabrina and Mizher, Qais, “In Iraq’s Mayhem, Town Finds Calm Through Its Tribal Links,” New York Times, 7/10/06

Visser, Reidar, “The Sadrists of Basra and the Far South of Iraq,” Norwegian Institute of International Affairs, May 2008

Voices of Iraq, “Sadrists show conditional support to Missan offensive,” 6/20/08
- “Security operations in Missan turns into political process against Sadrists – MP,” 6/20/08

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