Petraeus Testimony to Defend False 'Proxy War' Line
by Gareth Porter
A key objective of the
congressional testimony by Gen. David Petraeus this week
will be to defend the George W. Bush administration's strategic political line
that it is fighting an Iranian "proxy war" in
Based on preliminary
indications of his spin on the surprisingly effective armed resistance to the
joint U.S.-Iraqi Operation Knights Assault in
The idea of Iranian-backed
"rogue" Shi'ite militia groups undermining Sadr's efforts to pursue a more moderate course was
introduced by the U.S. military command in early 2007. These alleged Iranian
proxies were called "Special Groups" – a term that came not from
In April, after
Petraeus referred to it as "the Khazali network."
U.S. military spokesman
Brig. Gen. Kevin Bergner asserted in early July that Khazali's
network was a "Special Group," which was financed, armed, and trained
by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps and in some instances was even
"directed" by it. He said
The identification of Khazali as head of a "rogue" faction was highly suspect, however. One of Sadr's most trusted aides, Khazali had played a key role in recruitment for the Mahdi Army in its formative stage in 2003. He had gone underground in late 2004, just after heavy fighting in which the Mahdi Army had suffered heavy casualties and just as Sadr was entering into a long period of retreat from military operations.
In a March 30, 2007, press briefing, Maj. Gen. Michael Barbero of the U.S. Joint Staff said both Khazali and his brother were linked with the "Sadr organization."
A pro-war military blogger named Bill Roggio, who
maintains close relations with the
U.S. Ambassador Ryan
Crocker's first comment on the armed resistance in
"What you're seeing there is not a rising by Jaish al-Mahdi [Mahdi Army]," Crocker insisted. It was "a subset of Jaish al-Mahdi, the so called 'special groups' that really are basically just criminal militias that are the difficulty here," according to Crocker.
An article by neoconservative military historian Kimberly Kagan in the Wall Street Journal April 3 suggests, however, that Petraeus has slightly reformulated the proxy war line in light of the obvious role played by the Mahdi Army itself in limiting the advance of the U.S.-Iraqi operation.
Kagan is married to Fred Kagan, one of the main author's of Bush's surge policy, and
is a full member of the administration's team for conveying its
political-military thinking to the elite public. Her article evidently reflects
conversations with Petraeus and other officials in
Kagan, unlike Crocker on March
26, makes no effort to deny that the Mahdi Army itself was fully involved in
the armed resistance in
Furthermore, Kagan describes the Mahdi Army as "a reserve from which the Special Groups can and will draw in crisis." And Sadr himself is dismissed as ultimately a figurehead. "For all of his nationalist rhetoric," writes Kagan, "Mr. Sadr is evidently not in control of his movement…."
The new version of the proxy war narrative still attributes ultimate control over the most powerful Shi'ite political-military force in the country to the shadowy "Special Groups."
But in an interview with al-Jazeera taped just before the
That confirms the earlier
indications that Khazali was never involved in a
breakaway faction, and that what the
The March 30 story by
McClatchy's Leila Fadel on the ending of the
Fadel reported that Brig. Gen. Qassem Suleimani, commander of the Quds
(Jerusalem) brigades of the IRGC, brokered a cease-fire with Sadr after representatives of the Shi'ite parties now supporting the Maliki government traveled secretly to Qom, Iran March 29-30, to ask for his intervention.
Suleimani's role in reducing the
The Mahdi Army has received
training in both
Ironically, when Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad visited Iraq in early March, both Maliki and Supreme Council chief Abdul Aziz al-Hakim publicly dissociated themselves from the U.S. "proxy war" line, insisting that Iran was restraining Sadr rather than egging him on.
The interest of Bush
administration in keeping the proxy war line alive has nothing to do with Iraqi
realities, however. As a strategic weapon for justifying the administration's
policies toward both
is bound to be a central thread in the testimony by Petraeus and Crocker this week.
(Inter Press Service)