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By Gareth Porter, IPS
WASHINGTON, Mar 31 (IPS) - As it became clear last week that the "Operation Knights Assault" in Basra was in serious trouble, the George W. Bush administration began to claim in off-the-record statements to journalists that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki had launched the operation without consulting Washington.
The effort to disclaim U.S. responsibility for the operation is an indication that it was viewed as a major embarrassment just as top commander Gen. David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker are about to testify before Congress.
IRAQI GOVERNMENT FAILS IN CHALLENGING al SADR MILITIA - "SURGE" EXPOSED AS FAILURE BUT NEW DANGERS RISE
By Phyllis Bennis, Institute for Policy Studies, UFPJ Talking Points #56
** The Iraqi government's military offensive in Basra was designed to undermine Prime Minister al-Maliki's major Shi'a political rival, Moktada al Sadr, but the offensive appears to have failed, and instead is strengthening Sadr's forces and significantly weakening Bush administration strategy in Iraq.
** The inability of Iraqi government forces to defeat or even halt Sadr's militia in Basra, Baghdad or elsewhere even with massive U.S. military support, and the resulting escalation of overall violence in Iraq, also proves the failure of the so-called "surge."
** This power struggle between Maliki and Sadr is important because it represents Iraq's linchpin fight between supporters and opponents of the U.S. occupation and the government kept in place by the occupation; it is particularly important in Basra because almost all of Iraq's oil these days is exported through Basra.
By Tom Hayden
Central to the Bush-Petraeus Iraq strategy is to pacify and confuse American public opinion during the 2008 elections, an approach Gen. Petraeus calls "slowing down the American clock" to gain time for the counterinsurgency to continue. This week's events in Basra suggest that US strategy is collapsing amidst its own contradictions.
This is the most important opportunity for critics to question the "surge" since it began last year.
Here is what is happening.