Unlocking the Key to Surge Success

After a week of visits to Iraq by Important Old Men (IOM) reassuring us that the surge is working, it appears as though the linchpin to its “success” was

a) tens of thousands more American troops
b) General David Petraeus
c) Muqtada al Sadr
d) Who?

If you’ve forgotten who Muqtada al Sadr is, you may be forgiven. The IOM have assured us that as far as Iraq goes, “there’s nothing to see here folks, move along.” And the press has been happy to oblige. Fiery clerics in Illinois are so much more newsworthy than fiery clerics in Iraq, I guess. As McClatchy graphically illustrates it, coverage of, and public knowledge about, the Iraq War has gone down.

845-20080324-usiraq-deaths_large_prod_affiliate_91.jpg (click to enlarge)

On the same page, McClatchy raises this disturbing trend:

A cease-fire critical to the improved security situation in Iraq appeared to unravel Monday when a militia loyal to radical Shiite Muslim cleric Muqtada al Sadr began shutting down neighborhoods in west Baghdad and issuing demands of the central government.

Simultaneously, in the strategic southern port city of Basra, where Sadr’s Mahdi militia is in control, the Iraqi government launched a crackdown in the face of warnings by Sadr’s followers that they’ll fight government forces if any Sadrists are detained. By 1 a.m. Arab satellite news channels reported clashes between the Mahdi Army and police in Basra.

The freeze on offensive activity by Sadr’s Mahdi Army has been a major factor behind the recent drop in violence in Iraq, and there were fears that the confrontation that’s erupted in Baghdad and Basra could end the lull in attacks, assassinations, kidnappings and bombings.

So in 2007, al Sadr shifted his strategy from violent confrontation to building a network in Southern Iraq. The IOM cheered themselves like a bunch of pasty men on the beach clapping and congratulating themselves for making the tide recede. But tides ebb and flow, and cease-fires in war-torn regions are even less predictable.

But if I’m predicting, expect a long hot summer.

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