BASRA UPDATE….Hmmm. Gareth Porter has an intriguing take on what really happened in Basra last month. He says that Gen. David Petraeus had his own plan for a massive U.S./British summer offensive against the Mahdi Army in Basra, but that it was deliberately preempted by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki:

This plan for a major foreign troop deployment to the south for the first time since the U.S. battles against the Mahdi Army in April 2004 did not sit well with al-Maliki….When Vice President Dick Cheney, who had previously played the “bad cop” in the George W. Bush administration’s relations with al-Maliki, visited Baghdad in mid-March, one of his objectives was to get al-Maliki to go along with the Petraeus plan.

….The Cheney visit apparently mobilised al-Maliki, but not in the way Cheney had intended. Four days later, when Petraeus met with al-Maliki’s national security adviser Mowaffak al-Rubaie to talk about the U.S. campaign plan for Basra, al-Rubaie warned Petraeus that al-Maliki had a different plan. Petraeus was apparently told that the operation would last from a week to 10 days — not the several months envisioned in the Petraeus plan.

The main point of al-Maliki’s operation, however, was that it would exclude U.S. troops. As al-Maliki explained in an interview with CNN correspondent Nic Robertson Apr. 7, he had demanded that U.S. and British troops stay out of Basra, “because that would give an excuse to some militant groups to say that this is a foreign force attacking us.”

Maliki’s argument is that U.S. troops would have inflamed Shiite feelings in the south, and that’s why he wanted them to stay out. Porter suggests that American commanders have a different theory: that Maliki wasn’t really serious about eliminating the Mahdi Army and was afraid the American military might be a little too good at it.

Color me skeptical. But I’m passing it along for gossip value anyway. The Basra operation was such a shambles, and the motivations of the principals were so opaque, that I figure anything is possible. Maybe even this.