“The war situation has developed not necessarily to Japan’s advantage.”
–Emperor Hirohito, August 15, 1945

“We were surprised by a very strong resistance that made us change our plans.”
–Iraqi defense minister Abdul-Kader Jassem al-Obeidi, March 29, 2008

But all snark aside, what happens if the Mahdi Army beats the government forces and wins the Battle of Basra? The Brits are hunkered down at the airport and have no intention of helping out. American forces are busy in Baghdad and can’t afford to come south. And the Iraqi 14th Division is the best one Maliki has at his disposal. He either wins with what he’s got, or he doesn’t.

And if he doesn’t? What then? Does Sistani intervene? Does Maliki’s government collapse? Does the American military take over in Basra by scavenging up troops from northern Iraq? Does Muqtada al-Sadr abandon his cease-fire and start up a real civil war? Or does everything go back to the status quo ante, but with the Sadrists in an even better position to win the October elections and take formal control over most of the south?

Beats me. But things are not going well for Maliki at the moment, and a loss in Basra would make it crystal clear just how shaky his position is, how weak and factional the Iraqi security forces are, and how little commitment there is on any side to genuine political reconciliation. More from the New York Times here, Juan Cole here, and Cernig here.

UPDATE: On the other hand, what if Maliki wins? That’s no great shakes either.

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