Potentially Very Bad
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg
So, the news from Iraq today isn't good.
Iraqi forces clashed with Shiite militiamen Tuesday in the southern oil port of Basra and gunmen patrolled several Baghdad neighborhoods as followers of Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr ordered a nationwide civil disobedience campaign to demand an end to the crackdown on their movement.
Explosions rang out across central Baghdad as rockets or mortars fired from Shiite areas targeted the U.S.-protected Green Zone for the second time this week.
The violence was part of an escalation in the confrontation between the Shiite-run government and al-Sadr's followers — a move that threatens the security gains achieved by U.S. and Iraqi forces. At least 22 people were killed in the Basra fighting.
Now the million dollar question is: what is "a nationwide civil disobedience campaign?" If it is strikes and protests that's one thing. But if it is the beginning of the end of the ceasefire that is something very different. We have to wait and see.
But the issue is very serious. In fact it's huge. The drop in violence in Iraq has generally been attributed to four elements 1) More American forces and the change in tactics to counterinsurgency; 2) The Awakening movement; 3) The Sadr ceasfire; and 4) The ethnic cleansing and physical separation of the various sides.
It's hard to say for sure, which of these factors was the most important. The Bush Administration will tell you it's all about the troop levels. I've tended to believe it's more of a mix and was most inclined towards the Anbar Awakening and the sectarian cleansing as the important factors. But when you look at the data it really seems to indicate that the Sadr ceasefire may have been the key.
If you look at the graph that MNF-I has been using on civilian casualties it looks to tell a pretty clear story. The first major drop in violence came in early 2007 before the troop surge. It looks like it was mostly based on the fact that the worst of the sectarian cleansing in Baghdad had been completed (I outlined this argument more throughly a few months back).
The second drop in violence came in September. By that time the full surge had already been in effect for 2-3 months and the Awakening had been going on for a year. The Sadr ceasefire occured on August 28 and suddenly boom a big drop in violence. That could be a coincidence and it could be that all four factors came together. But the data seems to point to the fact that the Sadr Ceasefire more then anything else is what caused the drop in violence in the early fall.
If that is in fact the case, we really have to hope that this is only a temporary spat and that the ceasefire holds. If not, the situation could deteriorate very quickly.