"Evil is powerless if the good are unafraid" - Ronald Reagan

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The Press Botches Basra

From The Weekly Standard written by Daveed Gartenstein-Ross & Bill Roggio.

Both of these gentlemen point out differences in reporting coming out of Basrah versus the facts of all the articles combined. While headlines and text hailed Sadr's strength and resilience, facts show something completely different. Mr. Gartenstein-Ross and Roggio explain it best in these paragraph.

To be sure, the Iraqi security forces' performance in Basra is best described as mixed. However, they did not run into a wall. The Iraqi military was able to clear one Mahdi Army-controlled neighborhood in Basra and was in the process of clearing another when Sadr issued his ceasefire. The ceasefire came on March 30, after six days of fighting, and was seemingly unilateral in the sense that the Iraqi government made no apparent concessions in return. By that time, 571 Mahdi Army fighters had been killed, 881 wounded, 490 captured, and 30 had surrendered countrywide, according to numbers tabulated by The Long War Journal. Thus, an estimated 95 Mahdi Army fighters were killed per day during the six days of fighting. In contrast, al Qaeda in Iraq did not incur such intense casualties even during the height of the surge.

The Iraqi security forces were at their best in the smaller cities in Iraq's south. The Mahdi Army suffered major setbacks in Hillah, Najaf, Karbala, Diwaniyah, Amarah, Kut, and Nasiriyah. The security forces drove the Mahdi Army off the streets in those cities within days. The casualties taken by the Mahdi Army in Baghdad, Basra, and the wider south surely played a role in Sadr's tactical decision to call a ceasefire. An American military officer serving in southern Iraq told us, "Whatever gains [the Mahdi Army] has made in the field [in Basrah], they were running short of ammunition, food, and water. In short, [the Mahdi Army] had no ability to sustain the effort." Time's sources in Basra paint a similar picture. "There has been a large-scale retreat of the Mahdi Army in the oil-rich Iraqi port city because of low morale and because ammunition is low due to the closure of the Iranian border," the magazine reported on March 30.

Both gentlemen go on to point out that Sadr unilaterally issued a ceasefire. PM Maliki accepted Sadr's ceasefire, but did not stop operations nor did he agree to Sadr's terms. In fact, reinforcements were sent to Basrah and raids are still being conducted to this day.

But the fact is that the Maliki government did not agree to the nine-point terms for a truce that Sadr issued, nor did it sue for peace or promise that operations would cease. Instead the Iraqi government called Sadr's order for his fighters to pull off the streets a "positive step," and insisted that operations would continue. "The armed groups who refuse al Sadr's announcement and the pardon we offered will be targets, especially those in possession of heavy weapons," Maliki said, referring to the ten-day amnesty period for militias to turn in heavy and medium weapons. "Security operations
in Basra will continue to stop all the terrorist and criminal activities along with the organized gangs targeting people."

Subsequent to the ceasefire, the Iraqi military announced it was moving reinforcements to Basra, and the next day pushed forces into the ports of Khour al Zubair and Umm Qasr. Iraqi special operations forces and special police units have conducted several raids inside Basra since then, while an Iraqi brigade marched into the heart of a Mahdi-controlled Basra neighborhood on April 2. And two days after Sadr called for a ceasefire, the government maintained a curfew in Sadr City and other Shia neighborhoods in Baghdad. None of this would be happening had Maliki simply caved to Sadr.

In addition, the press reported an emergency session of Parliament was called to end Maliki's push into Basrah. However, again the facts show what actually happened.

Maliki's governing coalition did not revolt over this operation. When the Iraqi opposition held an emergency session of parliament to oppose the Basra operations, only 54 of the 275 lawmakers attended. AFP reported, "The two main parliamentary blocs--Shiite United Iraqi Alliance and the Kurdish Alliance--were not present for the session which was attended by lawmakers from radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's bloc, the small Shiite Fadhila Party, the secular Iraqi National List and the Sunni National Dialogue Council." The fact that the major political blocs in Iraq's parliament ignored the emergency session is politically significant, and no evidence suggests that Maliki's governing coalition has been jeopardized since then.

Finally, both of these gentlemen paraphrase what a military officer told them. For me, this provides the correct perspective.

As an American military officer serving in southern Iraq told us, "Claiming a 'victory' and then withdrawing from the battlefield is the tactic of someone that is losing."

Combine this with the Kagan article and a lot of questions remain. However, one thing is certain. PM Maliki security operation was far from a failure it was portrayed to be in the media. While not a resounding tactical success, one has to ask, did it accomplish its strategic goals.

PM Maliki was attempting to secure his nation's oil wealth. He did as Iraqi Army units now control the port cities of Khour al Zubair and Umm Qasr.

PM Maliki was attempting to break up and defeat criminal elements which continue to bring violence to his country. Killing 95 fighters a day for six days is significant. The killed, captured, wounded, and surrendered numbers come out to 329 per day or 1,972 Madhi forces total for six days. In addition, The Mahdi Army suffered major setbacks in Hillah, Najaf, Karbala, Diwaniyah, Amarah, Kut, and Nasiriyah. The security forces drove the Mahdi Army off the streets in those cities within days, as noted. In addition, his forces now control the port cities of Khour al Zubair and Umm Qasr as previously noted. This is hardly a defeat for PM Maliki.

Finally, PM Maliki stated he wanted to defeat Sadr's militia as the operation continues. This action requires considerable more time and will not be realized in six days. Hence, operations are still ongoing.

Politically, this operation did not hurt him as only 54 of 275 members of Parliament showed up for an emergency session with nobody attending from major parties. Politically, he obviously no longer enjoys the support of Sadr, who's 30 seats guarenteed his leadership of the country, but there are at least well over 200 members of Parliament who at least tacitly supported his operations in southern Iraq.

Militarily, the battle is still ongoing with 9 of 10 southern cities are now controlled by Iraqi Security Forces where they were at best contested beforehand. Militarily, almost 2000 insurgents were taken off the streets in six days. Militarily, Maliki was able to successfully move Iraqi Army units from one part of the country to another and logistically support them.

Looking at the facts, I would consider the battle in Southern Iraq to be completely successful with many strategic objectives accomplished or in the process of being accomplished. The battle of Basrah is ongoing. His military is capable of clearing and securing the south, the center, and is currently clearing Mosul.

Not a bad position to be in when you are uncertain if the US military will begin a wholesale withdraw from Iraq 10 months from today. This very concern is why PM Maliki may have decided to go it alone in the southern part of the country and why he is also providing the majority of forces in Mosul. He has two insurgencies who are vying for power in Iraq. His forces are taking them on, mostly on their own. He might as well test his military now, because 10 months from now, he may very well be going it alone.

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The Basra Business -What we know and what we don't.

From The Weekly Standard. Frederick W. Kagan & Kimberly Kagan discuss what we know and what we don't know about PM Maliki's security operation in Basrah.

MUCH OF THE DISCUSSION about recent Iraqi operations against illegal Shia militias has focused on issues about which we do not yet know enough to make sound judgments, overlooking important conclusions that are already clear. Coming days and weeks will provide greater insight into whether Maliki or Sadr gained or lost from this undertaking; how well or badly the Iraqi Security Forces performed; and what kind of deal (if any) the Iraqi Government accepted in return for Sadr's order to stand down his forces. The following lists provide a brief summary of what we can say with confidence about recent operations and what we cannot.

What we know:

The legitimate Government of Iraq and its legally-constituted security forces launched a security operation against illegal, foreign-backed, insurgent and criminal militias serving leaders who openly call for the defeat and humiliation of the United States and its allies in Iraq and throughout the region. We can be ambivalent about the political motivations of Maliki and his allies, but we cannot be ambivalent about the outcome of this combat between our open allies and our open enemies.

What we don't know:

How well did the ISF fight in Basra and, in general, what actually happened there? The absence of partnered Coalition Forces in the city makes it extremely difficult to understand the nature of the fighting and the Iraqi forces' performance--long experience in the limitations of stringers and "eyewitnesses" or hospital sources in places where we did know what had actually happened should leave us skeptical of all initial reports of combat coming out of Basra.

Facts coming out of Basrah are sketchy and incomplete at best. But the Kagan's point out we have always wanted Iraqi Security Forces to take over their own security. This independent operation says politically they are ready even if militarily they are not. They are politically willing to start operations against criminal elements whether Shia in Basrah region or Sunni in Mosul.

A few things I add to the Kagan's comments is many have been complaining that national leaders are stuck behind American fortifications in the Green Zone. The fact that PM Maliki went down to Basrah to direct the fighting shows that the PM is not afraid to wonder out of the Green Zone. This fact is made even more important by the fact that it was an Iraqi directed and led operation with little American or British assistance.

In addition, the battle in Iraq is no longer centered in Baghdad. Iraqi Security Forces are now strong enough to take the battle to cities outside of Baghdad as this operation in Basrah shows as does the IA centered operation in Mosul also shows.

While insurgents are still able to attack civilians in Baghdad, the major battles are now not in Baghdad. All insurgents are now pushed far away from Baghdad, the center of gravity in Iraq. As operations outside Baghdad continue to occur, the Iraqi Army is getting better able to move forces to decisive points well outside of Baghdad. This new capacity is significant in terms of the Iraqi Army being able to project its forces throughout the country.

The Surge of forces in Iraq has provided the conditions for the young democracy to flourish and to allow the Iraqi Security Forces to build capacity. We are at a new milestone in Iraq with Iraqi Security Forces capable of moving around the country to battle insurgents. In turn, Iraqi leaders are using these forces more often without assistance from American forces.

Future battles may not be completely victorious, as the Basrah operations shows. However, the fact that these battles are occuring and Iraqi Security Forces at least are holding their own is a dramatic shift from just a short year ago.

For a full read, click here.

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Al-Qaeda weapons'' cache doscovered in Samarra

From KUNA.

Iraqi security forces said on Saturday that they found a large Al-Qaeda weapons' cache in one of the small islands on the Tigris River, close to the city of Samarra in Saladdin province, north of Baghdad....

The weapons' cache was dug underground in one of small the islands on the Tigris River. Four rooms in the cache were stuffed with weapons, important documents, names of Al-Qaeda leaders, as well as some families who had been exploited.

The brigadier said that they also found a message from Abu Ayub Al-Masri, one of the Al-Qaeda leaders, along with formal requests for funding and freezing combatants and the deployment of others in Samarra. [emphasis added]

This cache is undoubtedly a treasure trove of data for the Coalition intel community.

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Global warming profiteers are wrong

From The Tribune.

Climate alarmists are alarmed, scaremongers scared, for their predictions of catastrophe are not coming true. "Global warming" has stopped. For 10 years, average temperatures on earth have not risen. For seven years, the trend has been downward. The fall between January 2007 and January 2008 was the biggest since records began in 1880.

Have temperatures warmed in the last 70 years? Yes. However, was increased CO2 concentrations the cause? No. What is the cause? The Sun.

Another factor is the warming effect of the recently ended 70-year Solar Grand Maximum, when the sun was more active, and for longer, than at almost any similar period in the past 11,400 years.

Long-term ocean changes have also contributed.In the Arctic, the media reported less summer sea ice than at any time since records began. Most did not report that records began only 30 years ago; that at both Poles there is more sea ice now than ever since records began; that there are five times more polar bears today than 50 years ago; that the Arctic was warmer in the 1940s than today; or that the average thickness of the vast Greenland ice sheet grew by 2 inches yearly from 1993-2003.

The great length of the Solar Grand Maximum probably also affected long-term ocean currents.

But the fact is the Solar Grand Mamimum has now ended. It will be interesting to see what temperatures do in the future.

For a full read, click here.

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The Great Green Zone Freak-Out of ‘08

From Nibras Kazimi at the Talisman Gate.

Mr. Kazimi discusses in his blog what happened in Basra with Maliki's forces and what happened in the Green Zone. It seems that PM Maliki went planned the Basra operation without Coalition assistance. In fact, while Coalition forces had developed a plan and the timing to go into Basra with Iraqi and American forces, PM Maliki rejected these plans and went with plans drawn up and created strictly by his generals. According to Mr. Kazimi, PM Maliki is asserting himself and his military in Iraq despite what General Petreous and Ambassador Crocker may or may not want to do.

Some Iraqi officers, headed by the Deputy Chief of Staff, had worked on this Iraqi-American plan that is being referred to by Gordon and they were miffed when Maliki went with an alternative plan laid out by the Army’s point man in Basra General Mohan al-Freiji. These disgruntled Iraqi officers were sounding off during the first days of the offensive but have now gone quiet, opting to join the winning side.

If true, then PM Maliki is coming into his own. This situation supports my first take on the Basra situation is that PM Maliki is taking control of the south while Americans are taking it to Al Qaeda in the center and the Kurds are covering the north.

One thing we as a military have to do is allow the Iraqis to do their own thing. While we may do it better than Iraqi forces in many respects (building combat power, fighting, and logistics), they also do better than the Coalition forces in many other respects (less hindered by rules of engagement, they know the terrain better, and they can distinguish between good guy and bad guy better than we can).

As the situation unfolds, it appears that Sadr's forces took a beating in Basra in a purely planned, led, executed and supported Iraqi operation which was not synchronized with Americans in the Green Zone. This situation caught American personnel in the Green Zone off guard and caused an initial panic of top American generals. PM Maliki is continuing his rhetoric against Sadr stating,

Maliki, for his own purposes, was vocal in his musings earlier today that certain areas of Baghdad such as Sadr City need an Operation Cavalry Charge of their own. Maliki seems confident and this confidence is reflected in the smiling faces and good cheers throughout the halls of the Ministry of Defense in Baghdad.

While the timing of PM Maliki's attacks in Basra may not coincide with American timelines, PM Maliki is operating on his own timeline. This situation shows that the government of Iraq is coming into its own. In addition, earlier I stated that PM Maliki's "memorandum of agreement" with Sunnis and Kurds is possibly now coming more and more into effect. Mr. Kazimi supports this contention with the following interesting tidbit from Sadr.

They are saying that Maliki “is fighting us with Sunni troops” and that the majority of military divisions and police units involved in the fight were comprised entirely of Dulaim tribesmen from Anbar.

If true, then reconciliation is more on track in Iraq than one would have thought a few days ago. In addition, politically this situation is also important because it shows that PM Maliki is not using Hakim's forces (which may or may not be loyal to him) but instead is using Sunni troops to battle Sadr and other criminal elements in Basra (Badr forces?) to ensure the country's oil wealth is going into the right coffers.

As stated before, the situation in Basra will be interesting to watch as it unfolds and more becomes known about the actual battles in the city. However, a few things are certain.

1. PM Maliki is now completely acting like an independent PM. When he wants to do something contrary to American policy, he will do it for his country's benefit regardless of what American commanders think.

2. PM Maliki has totally split with Sadr, the man who put him into power a few years ago. This tends to support the argument that PM Maliki now has other friends at the national level and does not need Sadr backing. Are these other friends Sunnis and Kurds who signed the "memorandum of agreement in December of 2007?

3. The Iraqi military is coming into its own. It is planning and executing completely independent operations. It is moving around the country from province to province, taking the battle to insurgents, and logistically supporting itself.

4. Whatever Maliki was doing in Basra was not what Iran wanted since they had to call in elements to stop the battle and convinced Sadr to lay down his arms.

All of these things above are good things, even if they are not in line with the Americans. Some other items which may be coming to pass are:

1. If Maliki did use Sunni forces and not Hakim's forces, he may also be splitting with the SIIC. This situation would definitely tend to suggest that PM Maliki has entered into different partnerships.

2. If Maliki did use Sunni forces, reconciliation is more predominant than one would expect.

3. PM Maliki is consolidating his power and now actively protecting his country's wealth, oil.

4. PM Maliki is setting the stage for provincial elections to take place in October 2008.

5. The political situation in Iraq has just drastically changed. The change is not beneficial to Iran nor Sadr. It is however, first and foremost, beneficial to Iraq's national unity.

Mr. Kazimi is always a good read and provides an interesting perspective. For a full read, click here.

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Who Won the Battle of Basra?

From In From the Cold blog.

...Well, that depends on who you ask—or which pundit you believe. According to Robert Dreyfus of The Nation the big winners in the recent fighting were radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, his Mahdi Army and their allies in Tehran: ....

But contrast Dreyfus’ account to that of Bill Roggio at the Long War Journal. Mr. Roggio, a veteran of multiple embed tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, paints a starkly different picture of the fighting and its results: ....

Mr. Roggio notes,

From March 25-29 the Mahdi Army had an average of 71 of its fighters killed per day. Sixty-nine fighters have been captured per day, and another 160 have been reported wounded per day during the fighting. The US and Iraqi military never came close to inflicting casualties at such a high rate during the height of major combat operations against al Qaeda in Iraq during the summer and fall of 2007.

I tend to agree with Spook86. It is difficult to maintain an insurgency while losing 200+ insurgents a day.

For a full read, click here.

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Time for Second Thoughts on the Ethanol Mandate

From The Heritage Foundation.

The anger over high gasoline prices was the main impetus behind the 2005 and 2007 energy bills and their successively higher ethanol mandates. The public may have mistakenly assumed that ethanol is cheaper than gasoline, but reality is beginning to hit home. When everything is taken into account, including the lower fuel economy from ethanol-blended fuel, the mandate is adding to the cost of driving—which is precisely why ethanol had to be mandated in the first place.

The AAA calculates that ethanol has recently cost 20 to 30 cents per gallon more than regular gasoline.[1] And that does not take into account the heavy taxpayer subsidies, including a 51-cent-per-gallon tax credit, without which ethanol would be even costlier.

Gas prices have risen 20 to 30 cents more per gallon for gas due to ethanol mandates. But that isn't the only bad news.

Ethanol is also more expensive to use in the summer: It contributes to smog and in several markets can be used only with a costlier base blend that compensates for this shortcoming; but this blend must be used year-round. Over the longer term, the law requires that corn alternatives like cellulosic ethanol be used as well. Cellulosic ethanol—made from certain grasses, wood, or crop waste—is currently far more expensive than even corn ethanol.

But on the good side, corn used to be $2 per bushel. Now it is above $5 per bushel.

We keep on messing with good old gas and keep getting higher energy prices. The full article is a very interesting read. Also note the several citation to supporting articles -- something one will not find in articles from Reuters or AP.

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France Sends Troops to Afghanistan, Eases NATO Strain (Update5)

From Bloomberg.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy offered a battalion of troops to fight the Taliban insurgency in eastern Afghanistan, heeding calls by the U.S. and other allies for France to take on a frontline role.

Sarkozy's offer of 700 additional French troops will allow the U.S. to divert soldiers to Afghanistan's south, where Canada had threatened to pull out its 2,500 troops in the absence of reinforcements.

"If we want to pull out one day, we have to win today,'' Sarkozy told a press conference at a North Atlantic Treaty Organization summit in Bucharest today.

Two things are significant here.

1. France is going to where there are attacks taking place.

2. France may be signalling a committment to NATO after a 42-year absence.

For a full read, click here.

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Iraq's Sadr calls million-strong march against U.S.

From Yahoo via Reuters.

Iraqi Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr called on Thursday for a million-strong demonstration against U.S. "occupation," a potentially destabilizing show of force after his followers battled U.S. and government troops.

The demonstration would take place next Wednesday April 9, the fifth anniversary of the fall of Baghdad, when the U.S. commander in Iraq is also scheduled to brief Congress in Washington about progress in the war.

It will be interesting to see how many people actually show up to march. Sadr has called these marches in the past and has not succeeded in getting the numbers requested.

For a full read, click here.

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So Who Really Won Iraqi Offensive Against Shiite Militias? (HINT: Not al-Maliki)

From Andrew Cochran at Counterterrorism Blog.

Contradictory signals abound in asymmetric conflicts like the Iraqi offensive. An Iranian general who is a designated terrorist played some significant role in the ceasefire, thus vaildating my prognosis. Sadr's backers in Baghdad are claiming victory today, even as U.S. troops patrol their streets. The British are now freezing plans to withdraw more troops from that city, signaling a lack of confidence that the Iraqis will secure the area anytime this year. But an admission from a U.S. Army general in Iraq is telling:

I stated before in this blog that Basra was a test for Maliki. It was his attempt to consolidate his power and weaken Sadr. The Kurds have kept peace in the north. The Americans are defeating Al Qaeda wholesale in the center. Maliki was supposed to defeat Sadr in the south.

According to reports, Sadr's forces were not defeated. I have to concur with Andrew Cochran that Maliki is weakened now since his forces were unable to defeat Sadr's militia in the south. However, the Iraqi Army forces in the south are predominantly made up of Hakim's old Badr Corp. So, not only is Maliki weakened, but so is Hakim. Furthermore, so is Sadr's forces as they have undoubtedly taken a pounding in this battle for control of the south. Politically, this tells me the struggle for Shiite dominance in provincial elections is now up in the air.

This is where I disagree with Andrew Cochran and other commentators about the endstate which is now being forecasted. Maliki is weakened politically, but is not out. Maliki before entered into a memorandum of understanding with Kurdish and Sunni leadership. Maliki's weakened status, as a result of the Basra operation, will cause him to lean more towards respecting this memorandum of understanding, possibly giving a larger voice to Kurdish and Sunni demands.

While it would have been better if Maliki's forces had defeated Sadr's militia wholesale, politics bring together strange bed fellows. This "unvictory" may cause Maliki to honor his memorandum of understanding to maintain political clout. Since Hakim's forces in the south were unable to defeat Sadr's forces, the two main Shiite parties will now split the Shiite vote, possibly giving more influence to Sunni and Kurds as a result of upcoming provincial elections.

The results in Basra politically are not unlike the current American presidential primaries with the Democratic party being split giving McCain a unique advantage in the upcoming general elections. Similarly, the Shiites are split now offering the Sunni and Kurds the ability to get more influence after this round of provincial elections and quite possibly in upcoming national elections in 2009. Both Hakim's SIIC and Sadr's militia are supported by Iran, which may explain why a Revolutionary Guard General from the Iranian Army stepped in to establish a truce.

In effect, the results of Basra has created four primary blocks instead of three. We now have the Sunni block, the Kurdish block, the Sadr block, and the Hakim block. No love has ever been lost between Hakim and Sadr. It was Sadr's hate for Hakim which forced him to throw in his 30 parliamentary seats to back Maliki for PM. With neither block will have a majority in upcoming general elections in 2009. The Sadr block will have to forge a coalition with the Sunni/Kurdish block if they hope to gain influence at the national level. I do not see this coalition happening due to his militia's past activities in sectarian killings. In addition, another coalition between the Sadr block and the Hakim block is now very remote as we saw in the first general election where both parties participated in a unified block. Therefore, the Hakim block will now have to actively negotiate with the Sunni/Kurdish block in any future national government, resulting in a forced reconciliation due to political factors present in a democratic Iraq.

Provincial elections in October 2008 will ensure provincial governments now speak for the people and allow the provinces to pass laws to regulate their provinces. Up until this time, it was apparent only the Sunni voice would be better represented. Now, both Shiite voices will also be represented, just not united. Nation elections in 2009 will ensure the national government is more representative of all Iraqis due to the possible forced reconciliation this "unvictory" in the south may bring about.

There is a silver lining in all clouds. This "unvictory" of Maliki's may very well be that silver lining that continues the process of reconciliation in Iraq.

Finally, Hakim's forces in southern Iraq which make up the Iraqi Army in this region will definitely be re-examined for loyalty and fitness for duty. This fact is not a bad thing. It is in fact a good thing because the loyalty and dependability of these forces have always been an issue. This battle just brings these factors to the forefront. Integration of Iraqi Army forces has happened all over the country minus the south. This battle may very well force more integration.

In addition, it has caused the Brits to postpone their withdraw and may actually get them actively engaged again in Southern Iraq. It has once again bloodied the nose of Sadr's forces which will cause his forces to once again regroup and retrain buying time for American forces to continue to battle Al Qaeda in Iraq. It has exposed the militia-type mentality of Hakim-dominated forces in the south which the military command can now reform.

What now waits to be seen is if Maliki can understand this "unvictory" was not an outright defeat for him and will seek to solidify partnerships in the "memorandum of understanding" he has been publicly avoiding to solidify his base of support. Only time will tell; however, this "unvictory" in southern Iraq does open new prospects for Iraq's democratic future.

This is just another political possibility as a result of the military operations in southern Iraq.

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