April 2, 2008

Who Won the B. of B., and Who Lost? Hint: Listen to the Military Guys

Hatched by Dafydd

Power Line asks "the question;" so do the Counterterrorism Blog and Col. Austin Bay. Bill Roggio is too busy answering the question to ask it. The elite media thinks it has the answer, but it's fooling itself (and us), as usual.

Paul Mirengoff at Power Line is skeptical of all sides, as is his wont. Alas, in this case, extreme skepticism leads to terminal agnosticism; but I think we have, at the least, a method we can follow to decide who won: Stop paying attention to the spin and just look at the actual facts on the ground.


Start with this one: In any military engagement, the side that calls for a ceasefire soonest and loudest is almost certainly the losing side. Why would the winner be anxious to terminate a successful operation before it's over?

In the case of Operation Knights' Charge, all sides agree that it was Muqtada Sadr who called for a truce, and he did so repeatedly. Buttressing this position is the fact that Sadr accompanied his call for a ceasefire with a series of imperious demands -- for example, that the Iraqi government must immediately release all imprisoned members of the mighty Mahdi Militia who had not yet been convicted of crimes. Yet despite the concession inherent in that last point, nobody, not even the elite media, claim that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has acquiesced to a single demand... but the Mahdi Militia surrendered Basra anyway.

For example, a fawning, almost sycophantic story yesterday on Time Magazine's website mentions the main demand, but then curiously drops the subject without saying whether Maliki accepted it:

One of Sadr's principal demands when he met with the delegation of Shi'ite political leaders to discuss the new cease-fire was that more of his forces be released under the amnesty law. This was to appease his disgruntled followers whose brothers and uncles are the ones behind bars and who feel they have taken an unfair brunt of the surge while former Sunni insurgents are getting paychecks in the Concerned Local Citizens units. Like any good politician, he has to prove he can deliver the goods to his followers -- even if he has to go to war for it.

And there the piece ends! Does anyone think that if reporter Charles Crain had the slightest bit of evidence that Sadr's demand was met, he wouldn't have shouted it from the rooftops? Especially in a piece titled, in typical unbiased fashion, "How Moqtada al-Sadr Won in Basra."

Location, location, location

Another clear indicator is where each side is when the fighting stops. At the beginning of the Battle of Basra, all sources agree that the Mahdi Militia was virtually in control of the city of Basra -- thanks to the British policy of walking softly and carrying a toothpick. The militia patrolled the streets, they shook down citizens, they paraded openly, they held major rallies in public. They kidnapped and killed people at will; they controlled the airport, the seaport, and the oil fields.

Today, it is the Iraqi Army that patrols the streets of Basra; the militia -- again, all sides agree -- has pulled its fighters from the streets and no longer asserts control of the city. From the International Herald Tribune:

Iraqi troops met no significant resistance as a dozen-vehicle convoy drove Wednesday into the Hayaniyah district of central Basra, scene of fierce clashes last week with al-Sadr's Mahdi Army fighters.

Troops set up checkpoints and searched a few houses before leaving the neighborhood after a couple of hours, witnesses said.

Here is what Bill Roggio says:

While the intensity of operations against the Mahdi Army in Basrah and the South have decreased since Sadr called for his unilateral cease-fire, Iraqi security forces continue to conduct operations. Today the Iraqi Army marched through the Mahdi Army-infested Hayaniyah district in central Basrah. On April 1, the Hillah Special Weapons and Tactics unit captured 20 “smugglers” in Basrah. On March 31, Iraqi Special Operation Forces killed 14 “criminals” during a raid against Mahdi Army forces occupying a school in Basrah.

The Iraqi security forces will continue to clear Basrah, according to the Army. During Sunday’s press briefing, Major General Abdul Aziz said several districts of Basrah were cleared, and these operations would continue. “Our troops managed to clear certain areas in Basra, Najubya, Al Ma’qil, Al Ashshar Wazuber and Garmat Ali and other places as well,” said Aziz. “Starting from today, we will work on clearing the other places from the wanted individuals and criminals and those who are still carrying weapons....”

The Iraqi Army has also moved troops into the ports of Khour al Zubair and Umm Qasr in Basrah province on April 1. The Iraqi troops replaced the facility protection services guards, who are often accused of criminal activities.

Clearly, the Iraqi Army ends the operation (or rather, the major-combat element of it) in a significantly improved position from where they started, while the militia is correspondingly dispossessed. Based on this metric alone, the winner should be clear.

Hip hip, chin chin, to the rhythm section

Another good measure is which side controls the post-combat operational tempo. Here again, there is no dispute, even among those who claim that Sadr won: The Iraqi Army continues its operations, while the militia removes itself from the streets, and it hides. The army continues raiding "safe" houses, arresting wanted militants, securing the area, and sending in reinforcements to hold the territory.

The Potter's Field

The "body count" metric is not always dispositive by itself; but combined with the other measures above, it adds its amicus curiae argument. Hundreds of Mahdi Militia members were killed, hundreds more captured, and hundreds more were wounded. Nobody claiming that Sadr won has even hinted that Iraqi Army casualties were anywhere near that high.

Roggio's latest numbers:

The Mahdi Army has also taken high casualties since the fighting began on March 25. According to an unofficial tally of the open source reporting from the US and Iraqi media and Multinational Forces Iraq, 571 Mahdi Army fighters have been killed, 881 have been wounded, 490 have been captured, and 30 have surrendered over the course of seven days of fighting.

Austin Bay has slightly different numbers (because they are official, so probably err on the side of caution):

A dispute over casualties in the firefights has ensued, as it always does. An Iraqi Interior Ministry spokesman alleged that Sadr's militia had been hit hard in six days of fighting, suffering 215 dead, 155 arrested and approximately 600 wounded. The government spokesman gave no casualty figures for Iraqi security forces.

No one, of course, could offer an independent confirmation, but if the numbers are accurate they provide an indirect confirmation of reports that Sadr's Mahdi Militia (Jaish al-Mahdi, hence the acronym JAM) had at least a couple thousand fighters scattered throughout southern Iraq. This is not shocking news, but a reason to launch a limited offensive when opportunity appeared.

Assuming Austin Bay's estimate of 2,000 fighters (before Knights' Charge) in southern Iraq is accurate, that means that Sadr lost at least 18.5% of his force killed or captured, taking the official Iraqi Interior Ministry lowball, and perhaps as much as 53% (!) if Roggio is more accurate. But even a loss of 18% of the southern force and an overall casualty rate of 48% is a staggering blow... particularly to a clandestine organization that will now have a significantly harder time recruiting, since they're no longer seen as being "in charge."

How the elite media tries to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory

So how on earth does anyone argue that Sadr was the victor? Very simply; in each case (yes, even with Andrew Cochran's tendentious editorial on the Counterterrorism Blog), those claiming Sadr won -- or more accurately, those claiming that Maliki lost -- completely ignore the facts on the ground and claim that Maliki suffered a political loss because the Iraqi Army didn't grind Sadr's bones to make their pita bread... and do it in six or seven hours, eight tops.

The fact that Sadr is still sucking air, that he can still give orders and have some portion of the militia listen, and the fact that the intrasectarian struggle ain't over yet -- hey, that's good enough to throw Maliki under the tank treads. Time Magazine:

In the view of many American troops and officers, the Mahdi Army had splintered irretrievably into a collection of independent operators and criminal gangs. Now, however, the conclusion of the conflict in Basra shows that when Sadr speaks, the militia listens.

That apparent authority is in marked contrast to the weakness of Iraq's Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki. He traveled south to Basra with his security ministers to supervise the operation personally. After a few days of intense fighting he extended his previously announced deadline for surrender and offered militants cash in exchange for their weapons. Yet in the cease-fire announcement the militia explicitly reserved the right to hold onto its weapons. And the very fact of the cease-fire flies in the face of Maliki's proclamation that there would be no negotiations. It is Maliki, and not Sadr, who now appears militarily weak and unable to control elements of his own political coalition.

He does? Despite numerous calls by Sunni, Kurdish, and pro-Sadr Shiite elements within Iraq, Maliki not only continued to fight, the army continues its operations against Sadr to this very day. Yet Crain, who seems to have an odd and somewhat disturbing admiration for Muqtada Sadr, insists it was really Sadr who won because when he called on his troops to abandon control of Basra, they listened to him. Such loyalty!

In Cochran's case at the Counterterrorism Blog, the partisan nature is diametrically opposite that of Time, which evidently wishes Sadr (hence Iran) would take control of the entire country. It's clear to me, by contrast, that Cochran is furious that Maliki didn't press the assault until every last Sadr lieutenant, every wanted militant, every member of the militia, every Shia who had ever picked up a gun, and Sadr himself were all dead and dismembered... and the little dog he rode in on, too.

(Killing Sadr would have been a particularly remarkable achievement, since I've seen no evidence that Muqtada Sadr has even returned to Iraq from Iran. Certainly none of the articles I've seen has claimed he's back; when they need a Sadr quotation, they always get it from his spokespeople.)

Despite Time and the Counterterrorism Blog being on opposite sides, they link arms to attack the center in a conspiracy of shared short-term interests. Thus, Cochran agrees with Time that Maliki lost; he believes that Sadr won because he's still sucking air, as if a Monty Pythonesque "I'm not dead yet!" is Sadr's only victory condition:

Based on reports from the area since then, including this morning, I'll conclude that the short-term gains that U.S. forces made are bound to give way to a long-term strategic victory in Iraq for Moqtada al Sadr, the broader Shiite community, and Iran, unless the U.S. redeploys significant numbers of our troops to Shiite strongholds throughout Iraq.

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. [Sic; Roggio, et al, say it is the Iraqis patrolling the streets; Cochran offers no evidence that American forces are doing it instead.] 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:

"Army Maj. Gen. Kevin Bergner said he welcomes the Iraqi government’s commitment to target criminals in Iraq’s second-largest city but he concedes there are challenges. He said most of the Iraqi troops “performed their mission” but some “were not up to the task” and the Iraqi government is investigating what happened. The government was surprised by ferocious resistance from followers of Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr to the offensive. The Iraqi campaign in Basra also faced desertions and mutiny in government ranks before a cease-fire order by al-Sadr on Sunday."

The "admission" by Gen. Bergner has been flashed around the news world by the drive-by media; it's their only take-away from the fight: Some Iraqi "security units" (as AP calls them) "were not up to the task." Left unexplained is whether these security units were army or police (both were involved in the fight), how many were not up to the task, and whether they damaged the operation or just didn't fight as effectively as we hoped. If it's a small number of units, mostly from the National Police, and if they were helpful but not as much as demanded by our very high standards, that's a far cry from the media implication -- that the entire Iraqi Army is worthless.

But the last sentence in the Cochran quote above is hardly a surprise: We have long known that some National Police stations were compromised by Sadrites. The main 30-man unit that defected to Sadr's side, or probably was in Sadr's pocket all along, has been captured and disbanded... which is yet another blow to the Mahdi Militia, which now has one fewer covert platoon in the Iraqi National Police.

Victory through superior winning

Reading through Cochran's biography, it appears he was a career bureaucrat (lawyer, CPA) at the Commerce Department, then senior oversight counsel to the House Committee on Financial Services, where he first appears to have gotten experience with counterterrorism... in particular, tracking terrorist groups by the financial trail of breadcrumbs they dribble behind them. This is an incredibly valuable skill, and I have no doubt he is an expert in all fields financial and in the finances of terrorism.

But I don't see any indication of a military background or strategic experience. Consequently, I prefer to listen to the military guys, like Bill Roggio and Austin Bay, rather than financial guys like Andrew Cochran. Particularly when Cochran's analysis doesn't even mention any of the military facts on the ground.

So to answer Paul Mirengoff's question, I would have to say that the clear winners were Nouri al-Maliki and Iraq. Not a single one of these points is even in dispute:

  • It was Sadr who called for the truce, made the Mahdi Militia's surrender conditional, then surrendered anyway even when the conditions were not met by the Iraqi government;
  • The Iraqi Army now controls the territory formerly controlled by the Mahdi Militia;
  • The army has continued operational tempo, while the militia is in hiding, its leader afraid to show his face in public (in Iraq, at least);
  • The militia suffered a loss of at least 18% of its total southern force with another 30% wounded;
  • The most that critics of the war can say is that Sadr "won" by virtue of not being killed (wherever he is) and because his Mahdi Militia was not utterly annihilated and have not utterly repudiated him.

If readers still wish to be agnostic about victory, well, it's a free country... now.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, April 2, 2008, at the time of 4:35 PM

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» イラク情勢:サドル対マリキ、バスラの戦いに勝ったのはどちら? from In the Strawberry Field
English version of this entry can be read at Biglizards.net/blog. 先日もお話したように、イラクのバスラとバグダッドにおいて、イランの飼い豚モクタダ・アルサドル率いるシーア武装集団マフディ軍を撲滅すべくイラク軍による激しい攻撃作戦「騎士の突撃作戦」が行われている。マフディ軍がこれ以上は抵抗はしないと停戦交渉を求めてきたことから、一応この作戦は峠を超えたといえる。 しかし、本来ならばマリキ首相の大手柄としてイラク軍の大勝利が讃えられてもい... [Read More]

Tracked on April 5, 2008 12:45 AM


The following hissed in response by: Steven Den Beste

I think it's too soon to say who won. This is only the opening stage of the battle.

The above hissed in response by: Steven Den Beste [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 2, 2008 5:59 PM

The following hissed in response by: Geoman

Clearly the Black Knight can not be defeated as long as he proclaims victory from a pool of his own blood.

I think the claims by the media for defeat of the Iraqi government come from frustration over the success of the surge. They want this to be the perfect "oh yeah?" moment of the 2008 campaign.
But, alas....

The above hissed in response by: Geoman [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 2, 2008 6:27 PM

The following hissed in response by: cdquarles


Excellent analysis, as usual. It sure seems that Mookie has lost this round at least, and probably the war too. Mookie sure hasn't been winning anything but drive-by media adolation and some dhimmi rationalizations. Will someone please update the situation with the Badr Organization?

The above hissed in response by: cdquarles [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 2, 2008 7:00 PM

The following hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh


Will someone please update the situation with the Badr Organization?

Well, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq changed its name to the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, dropping the reference to "revolution" -- presumably in recognition that they're in charge now, but that's still a good thing... after all, Iran still calls its army the "Revolutionary Guards." I prefer non-revolutionary governments, unless by "revolution" they mean the same thing we meant in the 1770s (which never happens anymore).

And the change some years ago from the Badr Brigades to the Badr Organization is another step towards the legitimization of the SIIC. Certainly you never hear of BO seizing a city (I don't mean the stuff you use deodorant for, nor the presumptive Democratic nominee).

I don't think we have to worry about Badr these days; the MM, backed by Iran, is the only militia that could seriously damage Iraq's future.


The above hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 2, 2008 10:24 PM

The following hissed in response by: SlimGuy

I have seen figures based on the high number guess for all Sadr types throughout Iraq as around 40 to 60K range and calculations that Sadr took a beating to the tune of about 2 1/2% of his total available supporters.

Even at that summary it is clearly not a sustainable loss rate. We are dealing with losses in a week approaching a year loss for our side.

They were fighting on their turf with all sorts of traps and planned in advance options.

If the government now controls all the checkpoints and has good defense positions being built to continue the sweeps, if Sadr brings them out again they will be in an even weaker tactical situation to engage from.

So we hear Iran linked groups in the government coalition went to Iran to call off the Sadr dogs and Iran did just that.

Doesn't sound like tactics of the victors at all.

The above hissed in response by: SlimGuy [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 3, 2008 12:32 AM

The following hissed in response by: TerryeL

It is not just the usual suspects who say Sadr won, as Dafydd notes there are those on the right saying the same thing. I was watching Brit Hume's Special Report the other night and the panel, especially Charles Krauthammer said the same thing. I think they are wrong and their criteria for success is all wrong. I think that some people on the right are still smarting from what they see as a weakness in dealing with the insurgency up front and so now anything less than all out assault is seen as failure. But this is not a foreign army attacking an enemy city, it is the Iraqis going into one of their own cities after heavily armed militia under the command of an absent leader.

We can not even get rid of the drug dealers in places like Miami and New Orleans.

The above hissed in response by: TerryeL [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 3, 2008 3:39 AM

The following hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh


I'm not a military expert and don't even play one on the blog; I make it clear any analyses of mine are just distillations of what others, who know far more than I, have already written. At best, I make connections that may elude the experts because I'm a generalist and read other things besides military or economic or political writings.

But one thing I have picked up over the past couple of decades -- is that post-modern warfare requires one quality or characteristic above all others: patience.

When fighting the Nazis, we needed a general who was hell-bent for leather, flying across Europe with his hair on fire. Gen. George S. Patton fit the bill perfectly.

And to be fair, in 2003, we needed generals who would fly across Iraq and dislodge the Baathists and the Republican Guard and the Fedayeen Saddam; and it was a good thing we had Gen. Tommy Franks as Commander of CENTCOM and Don Rumsfeld as SecDef. They were the right people for that job.

But the much more common contemporary problem of insurgency is a long, frustrating, nerve-wracking kind of warfare. There are no glorious battles, no defined battlelines, and no surrender on the deck of the USS Missouri. It's an almost endless game of "whack a mole, seal a hole," as I put it back in 2006:

Even though Seal-a-Hole is not futile, it nevertheless requires a great deal of patience; there are many, many holes, and each hole has a mole who must be whacked. Some of the holes, such as Sadr City, are very big and will require many mallets to properly seal. But if we have the courage and fortitude of our American forebears, we will seal those holes... and we will win.

I guess what irritates me more than anything else about my fellow anti-liberals is the paucity of patience they can dredge up, even with the wildly successful example of Gen. David Petraeus at their finger-ends. Too many of us have the attention span of a caffeinated squirrel (if you've seen the movie Over the Hedge, you know what I mean): They want everything -- yesterday!

I think the worst offenders are Ann Coulter and Laura Ingraham, our own "pot and pan bangers," as Hugh Hewitt calls local LA DJs John and Ken. Another is Caroline Glick of the J-Post, for whom the speed of light is annoyingly slow. (I wonder why the least patient fellows on the Right are all women?)


The above hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 3, 2008 4:29 AM

The following hissed in response by: Seaberry

Almost from day-one, Muqtada Sadr had been crying - Uncle! He and/or his cronies had first ran to Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani looking for help...didn't find any help there.

Dafydd once again nails-it in this post...

The above hissed in response by: Seaberry [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 3, 2008 6:26 AM

The following hissed in response by: Michael Babbitt

Dafydd, your analyses are always worth the slither. You often make points that are right on the mark. I don't always agree, as is normal, but you are a valuable and much appreciated contributer to the debates of our times.
In support of your thesis about the Maliki win, take a look at this blogger's analysis --http://talismangate.blogspot.com/2008/03/intifada-that-wasnt.html.
I have no idea how we became a country with a now large minority cheering for the defeat of their own country and its alies, even when it's obvious that people have been freed from an overarching evil. I think a Scientology-like cultist bent has overtaken much of the Left today.

The above hissed in response by: Michael Babbitt [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 3, 2008 7:07 AM

The following hissed in response by: BigLeeH

It's too early to say whether Sadr lost this round but it does seem clear that Iran miscalculated and that their puppet Sadr is paying a price. Whether that price turns out to be worth paying will become clear over the next few months.

Iran's primary objective in Iraq just now is to keep the violence at a level which will generate discouraging headlines in the US and European press in an effort to affect the upcoming US elections. To achieve the desired result the level needs to be exactly right: too little and the US press, distracted by the candidates and would-be candidates hurling feces at one another, would simply ignore them; too much and they will solidify the support of the more-hawkish voters for their hawkish candidates. And the timing is critical, too. For maximum effect the headlines should crescendo slowly -- peaking just before November. If it peaks too early then much of the effect will be lost.

Recently, Iraq has been not much in the news, what with the US and European media obsessing about the US primary races, and what's worse from the Iranian perspective, what little news there was tended to be about the success of the 'surge'. Clearly something needed to be done. So mortars and Iranian-made rockets started raining down on the journalist-rich Green Zone in Baghdad, and ever-helpful media responded with just the right headlines to mitigate the damage done by the success of the surge. It seemed perfect.

Except that it was a bit too much and a bit too soon. Maliki's response was more forceful than Iran had expected and al Sadr's militia started to take casualties at a rate that could not be sustained into the all-important fall pre-election season. Iran and al Sadr didn't need to win militarily to prevail -- they just needed to have the conflict in progress in the lead-up to the election, even if that conflict lead to getting al Sadr's clocks cleaned shortly thereafter. So al Sadr called for a ceasefire which he will try to stick to until the US elections are closer. It remains to be seen if he will still be able to make anything happen in the fall. If he can't then he's finished.

The above hissed in response by: BigLeeH [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 3, 2008 9:48 AM

The following hissed in response by: TerryeL


I agree and while I like Charles Krauthammer very much much, I would put him on that list too. I was listening to him and I thought to myself: Well Charles if it was that damn easy it would have been done by now.

The above hissed in response by: TerryeL [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 3, 2008 1:13 PM

The following hissed in response by: Tom W.

Why would Maliki back down when he controls this kind of firepower?

Iraqi special operations forces in Sadr City:


If you study the video carefully, you'll see return fire and hear Madhis screaming "Allah-u akbar!"

Reports are that Iraqi special operations forces were sent to Basra, explaining the high Madhi casualty rate there.

The above hissed in response by: Tom W. [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 3, 2008 6:48 PM

The following hissed in response by: Tom W.

Whoops. Here's the correct link:


The above hissed in response by: Tom W. [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 3, 2008 6:49 PM

The following hissed in response by: Beldar

Excellent post, Dafydd.

The above hissed in response by: Beldar [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 4, 2008 5:05 AM

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