Members of the Mahdi Army stake out a road in Basra on Saturday.
OK, John McCain, still “fine” with the U.S. staying in Iraq for another 100 years? And as for the Democratic presidential hopefuls, how does the whole troop withdrawal scenario change in light of the outbreak of heavy fighting in Basra this week? These are just a couple of the questions that couldn’t be more timely—or pressing—on the campaign trail this weekend.
The New York Times:
Mr. McCain, of Arizona, said he was encouraged that Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki’s government had sent its troops to reclaim Basra from the Shiite militias.
“I think it’s a sign of the strength of his government,” Mr. McCain said Friday at a stop in Las Vegas. “I think it’s going to be a tough fight. We know that these militias are well entrenched there. I hope they will succeed and succeed quickly.”
The Democrats, who are calling for phased troop withdrawals, are beginning to point to the fighting in Basra as evidence that the American troop buildup has failed to provide stability and political reconciliation—particularly if the fighting leads one militia, the Mahdi Army, to pull out of its cease-fire; that could lead to a new spate of sectarian violence across the country. Some are saying the fighting strengthens their case for troop withdrawals.
But the McCain campaign is hoping to turn that argument on its head, asserting that the battle in Basra shows just how dangerous the situation on the ground in Iraq is. It says this bolsters Mr. McCain’s argument that a premature withdrawal of American troops would lead to more widespread violence, instability and perhaps even genocide.