Does Basra Reflect a Defining Moment in War? The Iraqi government has faced a severe backlash in its attempt to crack down on Shiite militias. Tufts University Professor Vali Nasr analyzes what this development might mean for the U.S. role in Iraq.
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Does Basra Reflect a Defining Moment in War?

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Does Basra Reflect a Defining Moment in War?

Does Basra Reflect a Defining Moment in War?

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LIANE HANSEN, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Liane Hansen.

In Iraq today Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki extended a curfew for Baghdad and there has been intense fighting in the southern port city of Basra between Iraqi government troops and militias loyal to Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

Joining us to discuss the latest is Vali Nasr, professor of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. Welcome to the program.

Professor VALI NASR (Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University): Thank you.

HANSEN: What do you know at this point about what is happening in Basra. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki had to actually be extracted from his palace in Basra. Comment on the fact that the actions are widening a conflict that the Iraqi government was hoping it could contain with its own forces.

Prof. NASR: Well, this is a conflict that never went away. There was a lull in the competition for power between the two most important Shia forces in Iraq. This is not between the Iraqi government and lawless elements in Basra. This is a struggle between the two most prominent and powerful Shia forces.

HANSEN: General David Petraeus was given the orders to execute the surge. What do you think about U.S. military and diplomatic strategy at this point given all of the complications on the ground in Iraq?

Prof. NASR: Well, the surge had a very clear gain early on and it provided a military solution to an immediate military problem. But the surge has not produced a political solution to Iraq's fundamental political problem. Now, without a roadmap to a political settlement Iraq will not be a viable state, and any kind of a truce by definition will be temporary.

HANSEN: President Bush says this is a defining moment for Iraq. Our correspondent in Baghdad says in some ways this is also a defining moment for the United States. Would you agree?

Prof. NASR: Yes. I think it is a defining moment, particularly because the United States put so much stock on the effects of the surge. Iraq needs a political solution because the fighting is caused by political problems. If Iraq begins to unravel in a major way, the success of the surge would disappear and what will follow the surge is going to be probably much worse than what proceeded the surge.

HANSEN: But the military cannot bring political solutions. The Iraqi government can bring political solutions.

Prof. NASR: Well, Iraqi government, I think, by and large, is now irrelevant. The Iraqi government does not hold power in Iraq. The power in Iraq are held by men with arms. (Unintelligible) and insurgents in Western Iraq, Kurdish groups in northern Iraq and the Shia militias in southern Iraq. Ultimately these are the men who have to negotiate the fate of Iraq.

I also think what we've witnessed since the start of the surge is that increasingly peace is not going to be made in the green zone. Peace has to be made by people who are actually controlling territory, guns and power in Iraq.

HANSEN: Vali Nasr is a professor at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. Thank you.

Prof. NASR: Thank you.

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