We are asking the bravest reportorial hand on the ground in Iraq, Patrick Cockburn of The Independent from London, to make a coherent picture of the news of the war — starting with the flight of under-equipped and under-committed Iraqi Army units from their assigned war on Muqtada Al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army… and, among other things, the assassination of Muqtada’s brother-in-law in Najaf and, of course, General David Petraeus’s plea in Congress for an extension of the American “surge.” Cockburn’s strongest theme is that the Bush team in Baghdad is in fact fomenting a civil war within the Shia majority — a war that the government troops don’t want to fight and cannot possibly win against Muqtada Al-Sadr’s militias in Baghdad and elsewhere.
Patrick Cockburn:The US forces in Iraq are beginning a new war against a new enemy in Iraq. For five years after the fall of Saddam Hussein, the US was confronting (fighting) the Sunni Arab community — about 20 percent of Iraqis, or 5 to 6 million people. Now in the last few months it’s confronting a large part of the Shia community — those that are loyal to Muqtada Al-Sadr, his Sadrist movement and the Mahdi Army, which really represent the Shia poor. But, you know, one Iraqi official who’s not sympathetic to Muqtada was saying to me the other day that the Shia are a majority of Iraqis and Muqtada’s followers are a majority of the Shia. So this is probably 30 to 40 percent of the whole population. This is a massive new confrontation that the US is undertaking in Iraq.
CL: And why is the US undertaking it?
Patrick Cockburn: I think it’s a misjudgment. It think that rather as in 2003 they thought it would be easy to confront the Sunni — I remember going to endless press conferences in Baghdad where we used to have Jerry Bremer, the US viceroy, and various American generals all saying we were fighting the remnant of the old regime of Saddam Hussein. It was obviously untrue but they may well have believed it. This time around there seems to be the idea that if we eliminate Muqtada things will come right. But this won’t happen, because Muqtada’s supporters are too well integrated into Iraqi society. There are too many of them. They’re too committed. They’re not going to give up. This isn’t just a political party. It’s a religious movement.
Patrick Cockburn, Author of Muqtada
(Scribners, 2008), in conversation with Open Source, April 2008
Patrick Cockburn: The most convincing evidence that the surge isn’t working, in terms of restoring security to Baghdad and central Iraq, is that we have 3.2-million Iraqi refugees — that’s about one in nine Iraqis — who’ve fled to Jordan or Syria or within Iraq. Living in appalling conditions, money running out, poor health. I’ve been to refugee camps where there’s no fresh water, where cholera is beginning. And they don’t go home! These are the best judges of what the real security situation is in Iraq — not Senator McCain, not me. But these people who if they felt they could go back to their homes in some security, if they and their children could be safe, they’d do it tomorrow. But they’re not because they know it’s not true; they know it’s as dangerous as it ever was. And that’s really what everybody should remember when they’re asked: how is the surge doing, or for an optimistic moment they think things are getting better in Iraq.
Patrick Cockburn, Iraq correspondent of the London Independent, in conversation with Open Source, April 2008