In the opening game of the baseball season between the Boston Red Sox and the
Oakland Athletics in Japan, 11 runs were scored.
That lede would be unsatisfying to most sports fans, because it doesn't indicate
which team won. But it is very like most of the reporting of battles in Iraq:
"The deadliest clashes were in Basra, where at least 47 people were killed and 223
wounded in the two days of fighting," wrote the AP's Kim Gamel in a dispatch March
Ms. Gamel was writing about the opening clashes of Operation Knight's Charge, the
effort by Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al Maliki to take control of Iraq's second most
populous city from Iranian-backed militias, chiefly the Mahdi Army nominally headed
by the Moqtada al Sadr.
Fighting subsided after Mr. al Sadr called for a cease fire Sunday.
The cease fire "is seen as a serious blow" to Mr. Maliki, because "he had vowed that
he would see the Basra campaign through to a military victory," wrote Erica Goode
and James Glanz of the New York Times Monday.
But Nibras Kazimi, an Iraqi who is a visiting scholar at the Hudson Institute, says
his sources in Iraq tell him "the Mahdi army is losing very badly."
So who's right? It is rare in the annals of war for the side which is winning to
seek a cease fire. And though Mr. al Sadr has said he wants one, Mr. Maliki hasn't
said he'll grant one. "Security operations in Basra will continue," he said Monday.
"The Iraq army has cordoned off the city and is methodically advancing to allow
residents to leave the city amidst the fighting, militants to turn over arms, while
gradually isolating the factions they intend to uproot," a Marine liaison officer to
the Iraqi security forces said in an email Tuesday to radio talk show host Hugh
Why might Mr. al Sadr have sought a cease fire? "Sources in Basra tell TIME that
there has been a large scale retreat in the oil-rich port city because of low morale
and because ammunition is low due to the closure of the Iranian border," TIME
"They were running short of ammunition, food and water," a U.S. military officer
told Bill Roggio of the Long War Journal. "In short, (the Mahdi army) had no
ability to sustain the effort."
That sure doesn't sound like al Sadr's forces were winning. It is easier to
maintain the illusion that they were when friendly, enemy and noncombatant
casualties are lumped together.
His sources in the U.S. military tell him the Mahdi army was getting pounded, Bill
Roggio said. "According to an unofficial tally... 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."
"The U.S. and Iraqi military never came close to inflicting casualties at such a
high rate during the height of major combat operations against al Qaida in Iraq
during the summer and fall of 2007," he said.
The Mahdi army has won by surviving, media analysts say. But it seems apparent the
Mahdi army survived by quitting.
Mr. al Sadr offered the cease fire after two Iraqi members of Parliament travelled
to Iran to meet with the head of the Qods (Jerusalem) force of the Iranian
Revolutionary Guard Corps, the McClatchy Newspapers reported. The lawmakers urged
Brigadier Gen. Qassem Suliemani to lean on Mr. al Sadr (who is in Iran) to offer the
If true (Mr. Kazimi's government source in Baghdad described it as a "naive
fabrication"), the McClatchy story indicates the Mahdi army is under Iranian
Why would Iran want the fighting to stop?
"The Iranians have realized that they no longer can use the Shiite militia threat to
force Washington's hand on Iraq without jeopardizing their own interests,"
speculated STRATFOR, a private intelligence service.
Fighting among Shia factions, and the increasing independence of Shia factions they
thought they controlled has virtually dashed hopes Iran would be able to dominate
Iraq through Shia proxies, STRATFOR said.
"The mullahs know that they are losing," said Michael Ledeen of the American
Enterprise Institute. "Their great dream of driving America out of Iraq, which
seemed to be about to be fulfilled just a year and a half ago, has now turned into
the nightmare of humiliation and defeat for the Islamic republic. The Maliki
government is attacking the remnants of the Mahdi army in Basra, that same
government the mullahs thought they had under control."