Thursday, April 24, 2008

GreenZone info-ops people trying to adapt (updated, twice)

There appear to have been a number of adjustments yesterday in the American/Maliki info-ops strategy in Baghdad:

(1) For the first time, the US military gave a daily total for the number of Iraqis it had killed in ground and air attacks in 24 hours in Sadr City: 15, plus another four just to the north for a total of 19, which corresponds exactly with the numbers reported on Sunni-resistance websites. So we can take it that the scale of air and ground attacks in Sadr City is pretty much unchanged (see prior post). (This is only a guess, but possibly the US authorities realized it isn't in their interests to have their daily Shiite-killings being reported mainly on Sunni-resistance websites).

(2) Also for the first time, the Americans said why they are attacking Sadr City in this way: According to AFP, "US commanders have said the aim of intensive operations now under way against Shiite militiamen in Sadr city is to stop the rocket and mortar fire [on the Green zone]," and another US general gave what he said were total numbers of rocket and mortar attacks in recent weeks. He said 82% of the projectiles landing in the Green Zone came from Sadr City. (Take it or leave it: there isn't any supporting evidence or discussion).

(3) Still another US general said the US was appealing to Sadr to use his influence to stop the violence in Baghdad, where 21 people were killed yesterday. This was odd, considering 19 of the 21 casualties were the result of US ground and air attacks on Sadrist areas, so it is a little hard to see what Sadr could do to stop the killing, short of ordering a round of rose-petals and sweets for the American troops. So that particular initiative (reported in a somewhat confusing way in Azzaman, and more clearly on the Sadrist website didn't make it to the big leagues.

(4) Another info-ops initiative, however, did filter its way up to the big time. AlHayat quotes a named Sadrist leader in Sadr City to the effect Sadrist leaders are meeting in Najaf to discuss the future of the movement and make recommendations to Moqtada al-Sadr. Then he quotes "sources close to the Sadrist trend" who said a group of political and religious leaders in the trend are in favor of dissolving the Mahdi Army, while another group, "mostly military leaders" warn against that and warn of a revolt.*

(5) There were also a couple of interesting conceptual initiatives. If I show you a carton of eggs and tell you that some of them are "special" eggs and some are not; or that some of them are "special" eggs at night and then normal eggs during the day, you will look at me strangely, perhaps thinking me a lunatic of some kind. And at that point I will play my trump card, as Colonel Batchelet did yesterday, when asked about this line of argument.
"These two groups are so amorphous. They cross back and forth between one and another. It is difficult to say who is who," he said.
(6) Finally, political scientists will surely have interesting things to say about the latest Maliki pronouncement about his authority. Following a meeting with David Milliband, foreign secretary representing the birthplace of the Mother of Parliaments, Maliki, whose cabinet includes no Sunnis, no Fadhila, no Sadrists and no Iraqi List people, issued a pronouncement that read in part** as follows:
National Reconciliation has been a success, and We have political and national authorization, via the support and backing which all of the political blocs have offered to take the measures that the Iraqi government has taken.
Meanwhile, a parliamentary delegation visited Sadr City to view the damage, and most blocs were represented, except for the conspicuous absence of any representative of the Supreme Council (political counterpart of the Badr Organization). The Kurdish representative said the government should be more careful about the humanitarian situation. The Iraqi List person said the government is resorting to collective punishment, and this is a very dangerous thing to do because of the repercussions. The delegation recommended lifting the siege on Sadr City. The government replied that there is no siege.

* You can get a better feel for this in the version reported by the "news"-site (Supreme Council affiliated, to all appearances), which says the Sadrist trend is preparing to hand over the names of "special groups" people wanted by the Americans, in exchange for a halt to the American attacks. The site says: "And these preparations have reached a critical stage, because these leaders have indicated that they are prepared to sell out their brothers and their own flesh and blood, which is something you only see among the Baathists and the criminals, which is undoubtedly what these people are." Another element of the deal, this site says, is that the Sadrists will promise not to attack the Americans for over a year.

** "Sunnis agree to end boycott, rejoin Iraq government", says the NYT, and the news immediately hit the food-chain via Kevin Drum of Washington Monthly, who reports breathlessly: "Aside from everything else, this seems to be yet another step in the campaign to isolate the Sadrists — now the only significant group completely outside the government [except for the other groups also resisting the American occupation, he means]— and put the Mahdi Army out of business. Is that good news on the stability front, or does it mean that full-scale war with Sadr and his troops is becoming ever more imminent? Or both? Stay tuned." Actually, what the IAF spokesman said was that he will soon be submitting to Maliki a list of proposed IAF cabinet ministers, which will then be presented to Parliament. This is something the IAF has said before, and as even the NYT notes: "the deal [sic] could still fall through." The less fluffed-up Reuters report on this is here.


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