Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The rest of the answer to last week's puzzle

Azzaman, on the occasion of the recent Cheney visit, reported on the outlines of a deal between Cheney and Kurdish Region president Barzani, involving US security and other guarantees for Iraqi Kurdistan, in exchange for Barzani's cooperation in seeing to the passage of the Oil and Gas Law.

It was also noted that a day or so after Cheney departed, Adel AbdulMahdi abruptly announced he was withdrawing his veto of the Provincial Powers law, a veto that had been seen as essentially part of an effort to obstruct the process toward new provincial elections.

These are two of the famous Bush "benchmarks": Oil and Gas Law, and progress toward provincial elections. In the case of Barzani and the Oil law, the quid pro quo was obvious. But what was the quid pro quo for the Supreme Council? One possible--I would say obvious--answer now suggests itself: In exchange for the Supreme Council dropping its obstruction of the Provincial Powers law, the US would tolerate, and provide air-support for, a campaign against the Sadrists in the Basra region.

There isn't a lot to report on the initial operations in Basra beyond what is available from the BBC and AFP, but there is an enlightening comment from the AlHayat journalist this morning. He writes:
It appears that the central government has postponed dealing with the deteriorated security situation in Mosul, until after dealing with the armed Shiite militias in Basra, where military convoys now stretch from Qurnah (75 km north of Basra), to the city center...
A sudden change of priorities, to be sure, and one that has come about right on the heels of the Cheney visit.