Monday, March 31, 2008

Embarrassed U.S. Starts to Disown Basra Operation

WASHINGTON (IPS) - As it became clear last week that the "Operation Knights Assault" in Basra was in serious trouble, the George W. Bush administration began to claim in off-the-record statements to journalists that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki had launched the operation without consulting Washington.

The effort to disclaim U.S. responsibility for the operation is an indication that it was viewed as a major embarrassment just as top commander Gen. David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker are about to testify before Congress.

Behind this furious backpedaling is a major Bush administration miscalculation about Moqtada al-Sadr and the Mahdi Army, which the administration believed was no longer capable of a coordinated military operation. It is now apparent that Sadr and the Mahdi Army were holding back because they were still in the process of retraining and reorganisation, not because Sadr had given up the military option or had lost control of the Mahdi Army.

The process of the administration distancing itself from the Basra operation began on Mar. 27, when the Washington Post reported that administration officials, speaking anonymously, said that al-Maliki had "decided to launch the offensive without consulting his U.S. allies..." One official claimed, "e can't quite decipher" what is going on, adding that it was a question of "who's got the best conspiracy" theory about why al-Maliki acted when he did.

On Mar. 30, the New York Times reported from Baghdad that "few observers in Iraq seem to believe that al-Maliki intended such a bold stroke," and that "many say the notoriously cautious politician stumbled into a major assault".

The Times quoted a "senior Western official in Baghdad" -- the term usually used for the ambassador or senior military commander -- as saying, "Maliki miscalculated," adding, "From all I hear, al-Maliki's trip was not intended to be the start of major combat operations right there, but a show of force."........

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