8 years, 9 months ago
In Operation Alljah and the Marines of 2nd Battalion, 6th Regiment, we interviewed Lt. Col. William F. Mullen who gave us a realistic but positive report on the accomplishments of the Marines in Fallujah. As expected, we received e-mail from detractors (is Fallujah really this much better off?). There are also reports that take the same facts and turn them into a completely different interpretation than the one we published.
We have also published extensively on the calamity in Basra, the British having essentially lost the military struggle for Basra and surrounding areas. True to form, this assessment has also been questioned by detractors. But even the British are finally managing to turn their gaze towards just how bad the situation is in Basra.
Like Donald Rumsfeld, the man British commentators love to hate, we never sent enough troops to Iraq. At first we were pretty condescending to the Americans, insisting that our light touch, learned in Northern Ireland, was far more effective than their alleged heavy-handedness. We were wrong. Basra is not Londonderry. Our ever-lower profile was seen by local militias — and the public — as weakness. As a result the militia grewstronger and stronger, and now Basra is a town of warring gangs. We never committed enough — and we reduced our numbers much too soon. We now have only 5,000 men and women in Basra. That small force must protect itself, must continue training the 10th Iraqi Division.
The U.S. has also begun to divulge the sensitivity of the situation.
“This is less an insurgency issue than it is criminal, a borderline Mafia kind of situation. You’ve got competing criminal interests looking for territory down there,” said Geoff Morrell, the Pentagon’s press secretary.
“So that has certainly complicated matters for the Brits down there, and it certainly remains a concern for us,” he told reporters.
Britain has 5,500 troops in Basra but almost all have been pulled back to the airport where they are training Iraqi forces.
This admission may be gratuitous. Beyond criminal activity, three strong, competing Shi’a factions are at war with one another and openly demanding protection money from the population: Jaish al Mahdi, the Fadhila Party, and SIIC (Badr).
So what is the relationship between Basra and Anbar, and is there any acendotal evidence to back up these analyses? The best on-the-scene evidence comes from Omar Fadhil of Iraq the Model, who assesses the reversal of roles between the Shi’a south and the Sunni West in Crossing Anbar.
We’ve been getting some reports about the improvement in security in Anbar in the last few months but little was said about the highway that runs across the province.
The several hundred kilometer western section of the international highway is technically Iraq’s second “port” in a way as it connects Iraq with Syria and Jordan and was for years the only window to the world when all airports and the southern ports in Basra were closed to traffic in the 1990s.
For most of the time between 2004 and 2007 taking this road was considered suicidal behavior as the chance someone would be robbed or killed was too high.
But with the tribal awakening in Anbar that cleared large parts of the province from al-Qaeda the highway is expected to be safer, but how much safer?
My family returned yesterday from a vacation in Syria and they have used this road twice in six weeks. I had tried hard to convince them not to do that and take a flight instead but now after hearing their story I’m convinced that my fear was not justified; the road is safe…
This is good not only for Iraq’s economy and traveling but also for the American troops who can use this road as an alternative supply route in case the British troops withdraw and leave the strategic southern highway between Kuwait and Baghdad unguarded.
Back to the story; there are two travel plans for passenger SUV’s and buses from Damascus to Baghdad; one includes leaving Damascus between 10 pm and midnight, reaching the Syrian border control before dawn, entering the Iraqi border control at 8 am and arriving in Baghdad around sunset. A total of approximately 20 hours with 6 to 7 hours lost in waiting and passport control.
The second plan includes leaving Damascus at noon and here convoys carrying the passengers continue to move all the way until a short distance northwest of Ramadi. At this point the time would be between midnight and 2 am and since that’s within curfew hours in Baghdad, the drivers park their vehicles and everyone gets to sleep 3 or 4 hours and wait for the sun to rise and then the journey would continue.
Now the first plan sounds predictable, safe and well planned given the distance and necessary stops. But look at the second one carefully and try to picture the scene; dozens of passenger SUV’s (GMC trucks mostly) and buses parking in he middle of nowhere in a zone that was until recently the heart of al-Qaeda’s Islamic state! Obviously the drivers and families feel safe enough that they know they won’t be robbed and slaughtered by cold-blooded terrorists. Even more interesting, this parking and resting zone was not designated nor protected by the Iraqi or American forces but simply an arrangement the drivers managed on their own perhaps with cooperation from the local tribes.
I still laugh every time I think of this incredible change and I honestly wouldn’t have believed it if the story teller wasn’t my father.
This sign of positive progress brings to my mind a sad irony. Back in 2004 when taking the Anbar highway was out of question for me, the Sunni dentist, I made the trip back and fourth between Baghdad and Basra countless times without any fear.
Now, I’m ready to try the trip through the west, but going south through the militia infested land is something I’d never dare do at this stage.
The reports on the pacification of Anbar are indeed correct, and sadly, the British failure in Basra has made Operation Iraqi Freedom much more complicated.