Friday, October 20, 2006

“There is no state in the city right now”

The Mahdi army has taken over the city of Amara in Iraq.

A Shiite militia that has been accused of a wave of sectarian attacks on Iraq’s Sunni minority has seized control of the city of Amara in southeastern Iraq, attacking police stations and erecting checkpoints, witnesses in the city said today. At least 15 people have been killed, health officials said.

The takeover of Amara by the militia, the Mahdi Army, was a broad act of defiance against the authority of the central government, which has been trying to impose order and curb sectarian violence. The incident also raised questions about whether Iraq’s militias can be reined in....

Sheik Abdul Kareem al-Muhammadawi, a prominent tribal leader, said in an interview by telephone today that the Mahdi Army responded [to an attack on Shiites in the city] by deploying its troops in the city. He said the police were outgunned, with insufficient weapons and ammunition.
He followed with the quote in the title.

To be fair, a British commander pointed out that this was unlikely to have been intended- they didn't go in expecting to take over the city, but did it in response to the violence. This is not conquest. What is striking for me, however, is that the Mahdi Army appears to be successfully following in Hezbollah's footsteps of providing a Shiite alternate military that is capable of checking--and even defeating--the state's forces. Even if they have no designs on seizing power, this localized power makes an enormous difference.

Two thoughts immediately arise:

1) This is a boon for Iran. Every quasi-military Shiite organization in the region is a bonus for them, even if they have no designs on regional dominance. It makes it that much more likely that the "Shiite crescent" will become a de facto reality.

2) The United States is both more likely to attack Iran and less likely to succeed. DoD will want to prevent Iran from gaining a solid hold on the region, but the hold they already have will allow Iran lots of opportunity to cause havok.

Neither of these ideas are new, of course. They still bear repeating.

As for Amara, I hope that this is a temporary state of affairs at best. Having a city be militia-held is a recipe for further instability. A presence is probably inevitable, but Mahdi should relinquish control as soon as possible.

This post was written with Internet Explorer 7, by the way, which has the dubious distinction of feeling just enough like Firefox that I really feel the absence of my various Firefox extensions. Tabbed browsing without mouse gestures just feels...wrong. No other way to explain it.

Nice browser otherwise.

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