IRAQ TIDBITS….The British military came under considerable criticism during the Battle of Basra for staying on their base outside the airport and refusing to come into the city to help out government forces. Turns out, though, that the British did offer to help after all, but Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki sent them packing. Apparently he’s still mad because the Brits made a deal with Muqtada al-Sadr to avoid attack during last year’s withdrawal from Basra city. More fine work from our man in Baghdad.

On another front — and yes, I realize almost no one else will be interested in this — I’ve been emailing with Eric Martin recently wondering why we hear nothing these days about the Fadhila Party in Basra. Fadhila is the “third” party in the south (along with the Sadrists and the Dawa/ISCI/Hakim partisans), and despite their substantial power in and around Basra they’ve been virtually invisible during the recent fighting. Today, Juan Cole passes along the most detailed report I’ve read recently about Fadhila’s whereabouts:

The Times also suggests that the governor of Basra Province, Muhammad Misbah al-Wa’ili, is effectively under house arrest, his own guards from his Islamic Virtue Party (Fadhila) having been replaced by Iraqi army troops. Al-Wa’ili lost a vote of no confidence in late April of 2007 in a maneuver organized by al-Maliki’s ally, the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq. But al-Wa’ili brandished his Islamic Virtue militia and refused to step down. If the Times’s report is true, it may well be that al-Maliki came south to install the Islamic Supreme Council and its Badr Corps paramilitary, along with the Iraqi 14th Division, in power in Basra. That would give ISCI, led by pro-Iranian cleric Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, the advantages of incumbency going into October’s provincial elections.

That makes sense. If Maliki was trying to use the military to gain the electoral upper hand in Basra in the runup to elections, he’d need to weaken both Sadr and al-Wa’ili. He may not be much of a prime minister (or much of a commander-in-chief) but Maliki knows who his enemies are.

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