The Mahdi Army cease-fire is history. Iraq's titular head al Maliki has extended his 72-hour militia surrender offer another 288 hours and kicked in a gun buy-back plan (like that'll work -- not in a culture that so highly values guns when there isn't a war going on). Iraqi police are deserting in droves leaving the Iraqi Army (until they start deserting in droves) to man Baghdad check points.
Now comes the word Coalition Forces Drawn Into Basra Fighting. Yes, as the Iraqi Army stands up, we mount our warplanes and start a shellin'. NY Times:
BAGHDAD — American warplanes shelled targets in the southern port city of Basra late Thursday, joining for the first time an onslaught by Iraqi security forces intended to oust Shiite militias there, according to British and American military officials.As the situation in Baghdad deteriorates, a bad scene in Basra just gets worse. Again The Times:
In Baghdad, the capital, American aircraft and Mahdi Army fighters exchanged fire in the Sadr City neighborhood, the capital’s largest Shiite militia stronghold. The Iraqi police said an American helicopter opened fire early Friday in Sadr City, killing five people.
The American military confirmed the strike, saying the helicopter was called in after troops on the ground were shot at and requested air support. The Iraqi police also reported a second, later strike by a fixed-wing American aircraft that they said killed four people.
Amid the violence in Baghdad, rocket or mortar fire struck the office of one of Iraq’s two vice presidents, Tariq al-Hashimi, in the Green Zone, killing a security guard. It was not immediately clear whether Mr. Hashimi was in his office at the time, or whether he was hurt in the attack.
The strikes by American warplanes in Basra, one on a militia stronghold and a second on a mortar team that was attacking Iraqi forces, were made at the request of the Iraqi Army, said Maj. Tom Holloway, a spokesman for the British Army in Basra.How is Mr. Sunshine, err, I mean Preznit Bush taking these new developments? Everything is going according to plan. Natch. The NYT has the kicker:
Major Holloway said that the Americans conducted the air attack because the Iraqi security forces did not have aircraft capable of making such strikes. American and British forces have been flying surveillance runs over Basra since the latest fighting in the city began this week.
“I think the point here is actually that the Iraqis are capable, they are strong and they have been engaging successfully,” Major Holloway said.
But the airstrikes by coalition forces after a four-day stalemate in Basra suggested that the Iraqi military has not, on its own, been able to rout the militias, despite repeated statements by American and Iraqi officials that its fighting capabilities have vastly improved.
The Iraqi prime minister, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, who on Wednesday set a 72-hour deadline for the militias in Basra to lay down their arms or face harsh consequences, said Friday that cash rewards would be offered to anyone in Basra who turned in heavy weapons or artillery. Mr. Maliki, who has staked his political credibility on the Basra campaign, said the cash offer would last until April 8.
In Washington, President Bush reiterated his support for Mr. Maliki, describing the offensive as “a defining moment” in the history of a free Iraq and a test for its government — a test that Mr. Bush said it would pass successfully.I am so filled with bile and vitriol that I'll have to wait a few minutes to respond to Bush's "necessity of this war in the development of a free society."
The United States will continue to help the Iraqi forces if asked, the president said, but the Iraqis “are in the lead.”
“This is going to take a while,” the president said at a White House appearance with Prime Minister Kevin Rudd of Australia, “but it is a necessary part in the development of a free society.”
*Apologies to Jon Stewart & co. for such a blatant rip-off. I couldn't come up with a snappier title and Iraq seems to be getting messier every minute.