04/10/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Shiite Fighting In Iraq Exposes Weakness Of Iraqi Security Forces

This week, the final U.S. Army brigade deployed to Baghdad as part of the troop surge returns to the United States. And that's only appropriate, as the inter-Shiite conflict between Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and forces loyal to Moqtada al-Sadr marked the surge's epitaph.

Across the southern port city of Basra and in eastern Baghdad's restive, 3 million-people-strong Shiite slum -- known as Sadr City -- Iraqi soldiers and police launched a campaign of suppression against Sadr's Mahdi Army militia. Maliki initially demanded the Mahdi Army disarm within three days. But the resiliency of Sadr's militiamen -- many of whom have infiltrated the government security forces -- forced Maliki to relax his deadline. On Sunday, the government accepted a ceasefire almost entirely on Sadr's terms: brokered by an Iranian general, Qassem Suleimani (who, McClatchy reported, is on the Treasury Department's terrorist watch-list), the Mahdi Army will retain its weapons. Further negotiations will take place in the Iranian city of Qom, where Sadr will receive Maliki's emissaries.

(Matt Mahurin) The nearly week-long fighting left hundreds dead. March saw nearly 1000 civilians dead across Iraq -- an increase of 30 percent over February. February, in turn, saw its own 30 percent increase in civilian casualties over January. And in January, statistics released to The Washington Independent by the U.S. military command in Iraq showed increases in insurgent and terrorist explosions and suicide attacks during the final weeks of 2006.

The trend toward increased violence in early 2008 does not rise to the level of the bloodshed Iraq experienced in mid-to-late 2006, before the surge began. But it does underscore the limits of what the surge achieved, according to U.S. government officials and outside experts, even on the security front where the Bush administration argued it was most successful. "The fact is, the ISF [Iraqi security forces] couldn't fulfill a major campaign against an insurgent group on its own," said a U.S. intelligence analyst who spoke on condition of anonymity. "I personally think that's the real story. The ISF, despite the surge, and despite the [rhetoric from the Bush administration that] 'they'll stand up as we stand down,' couldn't fulfill their core requirement."

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