7 years ago
The Telegraph gives us a glimpse into the state of Basra today.
Five years on from the invasion of Iraq, the apparent success of the American surge and growing stability in Basra are providing cautious grounds for optimism. There has been a palpable change in the atmosphere in Basra since Britain formally handed over control of the province to the Iraqis last December.
After the initial euphoria that greeted British troops when they participated in the campaign to overthrow Saddam Hussein’s regime in 2003, things quickly turned sour as they found themselves caught up in a vicious power struggle between militias.
By last summer, the last British battle group found itself under siege at Basra palace, and was obliged to make a tactical withdrawal to the air base on the city outskirts, where it remains.
But the main purpose of the British mission had always been to train the Iraqis to a level where they could take responsibility for their own security, and that is now slowly starting to happen, as I found when I visited Basra.
Now that British forces have withdrawn from the city centre, it is difficult to know precisely what is happening there, but local contacts and British intelligence sources report that the situation is far calmer than last year, with Shia religious parties assuming responsibility for security.
The intent should have been to eradicate the radical elements or subdue them. Note the wording of this last statement: ” … with Shia religious parties assuming responsibility for security.” The British didn’t turn over security to the radical Shia militia; nor do the Jaish al Mahdi or the SIIC care about security.
The main purpose for the 4,000 British troops is to provide back-up for the Iraqi security forces when required.
The overall situation in Basra has been greatly helped by the recent six-month extension to the ceasefire agreed by Moqtada al Sadr’s militias, although one senior British diplomat said there had been “a number of moments when things have been very dodgy”.
And although the mood is calmer, the militias are still intimidating local people. Walls in the city bear graffiti warning: “If we catch women without the veil, we will cut off your head.”
Some security. The deplorable British strategy in Basra and retreat in the face of radical Islamists has resulted in the targeting of women.
One hundred and thirty-three women were killed last year in Basra, Iraq’s second largest city, either by religious vigilantes or as a result of so-called “honour” killings, a report said on 31 December.
The report, released by Basra Security Committee at a conference on women’s rights in the city, said 79 of the victims were deemed by extremists to be “violating Islamic teachings”, 47 others died in “honour” killings and the remaining seven were targeted for their political affiliations.
“The women of Basra are being horrifically murdered and then dumped in the garbage with notes saying they were killed for violating Islamic teachings,” Bassem al-Moussawi, head of the committee and a member of Basra’s Provincial Council, told the conference.
“Sectarian groups are trying to force a strict interpretation of Islam… They send their vigilantes to roam the city, hunting down those who are deemed to be behaving against their [the extremists’] own interpretations,” al-Moussawi said.