On Thursday, President Bush declared that the violence currently engulfing the southern Iraqi city of Basra is “very positive” because it shows that the Iraqi government “is willing to take on elements that believe they are beyond the law.” On the same day, White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe said that clashes in Basra are “a credit not only to the Iraqis, but to the success of the surge.”
On Mike Gallagher’s radio show yesterday, Chris Wallace, the host of Fox News Sunday, echoed the Bush administration’s spin and declared that violence in Basra is “good news”:
We’re going to talk about Iraq and the Iraqi offensive, which I think, in a sense, is good news. Because it’s the Iraqi government, who’s mostly Shi’ite, taking on Shi’ite outlaw militias in the southern part of the country and this is after all what the whole point of the surge and our efforts there was supposed to be all about, was to get the Iraqis to stand up and control their own country.
Both Wallace and the White House are making “a dangerous oversimplification” when they cast the violence as a government-versus-militia, good-versus-bad struggle. In fact, as national security analyst Anthony Cordesman says, the clashes in Basra are “more like a mini civil war between competing Shiite groups vying for power.”
Additionally, the Iraqi government is having difficulty establishing control over the city. Earlier this week, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki gave the militants 72 hours to surrender, but now he has been forced to extend that deadline to April 8.
The New York Times reports today that the “violence has spread to Shiite districts of Baghdad and other places in Iraq,” which is “raising fears” that recent security gains “could be at risk.” It’s hard to see how this amounts to “good news.”