Michael Yon on The Shia Militia Fight

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Glenn Reynolds from Instapundit taped a call from Michael Yon, who is in Mosul right now, about the Shia militia fight going on in Basra and in Sadr city inside Baghdad. Its quite informative and lasts close to 10 minutes. Well worth the listen:



Reynolds – So how are the US forces there feeling about this? Do they feel that they got the situation reasonably under control or do they think its endangered of getting out of control or are they just waiting to see how things develop?

Yon – Well, I’m in Mosul which is on the other side of the country from Basra. Mosul is where the last big fighting against al-Qaeda has been shaping and al-Qaeda is truly being crushed, I mean there is not a whole lot left of these guys so that’s the good news. The bad news, on the other side of the country, down in Basra, I think a lot of this is wait and see. Also, in Baghdad, a lot of this is wait and see. But you can’t just wait and let the fire burn without checking it so clearly we are already getting involved. There are reports of airstrikes from US planes in Basra and also in Baghdad. There are reports of pretty sharp fighting with US forces in Baghdad. So I would imagine that its going to get worse before it gets better. These militias truly are powerful. The Iraqi army on the other hand are increasingly becoming capable and they certainly are not push overs. The Iraqi army can fight, they cannot sustain themselves but they can definitely fight. They need are support, of course, for logistics and also for air support which is very helpful. Down in Basra there is another wildcard, the Iraqi police in Basra are unreliable. They are the worst police I’ve seen in Iraq actually. So that’s going against us down there. Going forth is the fact that the Iraqi army is quite capable. But, again, the militias are strong and its going to be a very serious fight, if they decide to fight.

Another good quote from Yon is his take on what this fight is about:

The Shia down there will tell you this is not about, this doesn’t have anything to do with religion whatsoever. It’s all about power, its all about money, it’s all about influence.

And the Iraqi government cannot allow the militias to have that power, money, & influence if a Iraqi government is to succeed.

Finally, from Yon:

These are serious setbacks with the Shia militias, but its not the end of the world, its not civil war thats for sure. That ended last year. The civil war ended, especially, when we started beating down al-Qaeda.


The Shia militias are not intractable forces like you have with al-Qaeda. With al-Qaeda we had to kill em, capture em, run em’ out, demoralize them…you know, all those things. We had to physically beat these people. Now with the militias, the Shia militias in particular, a lot of these people are using violence as a negotiating tactic. So this is not necessarily, again this is not a theological splitting of Iraq. Its all about resources and power.

Curt served in the Marine Corps for four years and has been a law enforcement officer in Los Angeles for the last 24 years.

One Response to “Michael Yon on The Shia Militia Fight”

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    While I hear Yon’s wisdom of ‘wait and see’, his descriptors of Barsa, except his observations regarding  the Basra police, are almost non-existent.  So, adding more specifics to  the present state of affairs:

    "Shiite militiamen in Basra openly controlled wide swaths of the city on Saturday and staged increasingly bold raids on Iraqi government forces sent five days ago to wrest control from the gunmen, witnesses said, as Iraqi political leaders grew increasingly critical of the stalled assault. Witnesses in Basra said members of the most powerful militia in the city, the Mahdi Army, were setting up checkpoints and controlling traffic in many places ringing the central district controlled by some of the 30,000 Iraqi Army and police forces involved in the assault. Fighters were regularly attacking the government forces, then quickly retreating. Senior members of several political parties said the operation, ordered by Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, had been poorly planned. The growing discontent adds a new level of complication to the American-led effort to demonstrate that the Iraqi government had made strides toward being able to operate a functioning country and keep the peace without thousands of American troops.</blockquote>http://www.nytimes.com/2008/03/30/world/middleeast/30iraq.html?_r=2&hp=&oref=slogin&pagewanted=print

    If the above is true, it explains why Yon thinks it may "get worse before it gets better."

    But here Yon’s descriptor becomes too tightly packed:

    "These are serious setbacks with the Shia militias, but its not the end of the world, its not civil war thats for sure. That ended last year. The civil war ended, especially, when we started beating down al-Qaeda."

    Yon’s description  now appears clumsily jammed. Is he  cloaking the potential of a looming civil war by obscuring it with rhetorical civil war terminus? While this isn’t a "religious" civil war, it’s not just "about money and power": It’s about patriotism, liberty, fighting the "evil American crusaders", removing an occupation.

    Certainly it’s not a civil war now, but there is very good and clear reason to be concerned another one looms.  It’s a concern the ISG made and as well as numerous military commanders …even conservatives:

    Contrary to Yon, the Sunni-Shia civil war wasn’t solely religious in nature either, but was and is just as political; it’s one of the main reasons for the country’s present division sticking points in political reconciliation– the Sunni’s want "power and resources" –just as the Shia militias do.

    So, while the inter-Shia conflict may not have the religious elements the Sunni-Shia conflict had,  it has the political elements, which are just as volatile: Sadr opposes a US occupation, as did/do the Sunnis, while the Maliki government supports it. … and it’s this description that is the crux of the U.S problem in Iraq.

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