Basra and the possibility of Iraqi reconciliation

The AP reports that the Iraqi government’s attempted crackdown on Shiite militants “has won the backing of Sunni Arab and Kurdish parties that fear both the powerful sectarian militias and the effects of failure on Iraq’s fragile government.” The AP goes on to suggest that the emergence of this common cause against Shiite militias and especially the Mahdi army “could help bridge Iraq’s political rifts.”
This analysis is not implausible, and it adds what may be an important (and certainly a missing) perspective to the discussion of the fighting in Basra. However, a few cautionary notes may be in order. First, while the Sunni and Kurdish parties would welcome attacks on the forces of Muqtada al-Sadr in any venue, the amount of good will that can be generated by attacks in the Shiite south may be limited, especially if the results are mixed. The real proving grounds is probably Baghdad, with its large Sunni presence. A successful major operation against the Mahdi army there might be a turning point in the quest for national reconciliation; a less than fully successful operation in Basra, probably not so much. In this regard, the Washington Times reports on growing speculation that the government is preparing to launch a major action in Sadr city. We

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