The Battle in Basra

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 7 months ago

The Shi’ite militias are active, and not just in Basra.  Baghdad is under direct attack from the forces of Moqtada al Sadr.  “Terrorists launched 12 combined mortar and rocket attacks attacks into Multi-National Division – Baghdad’s operational environment beginning at approximately 6 a.m. March 25.  Among the multiple attacks were 107 mm rockets were fired toward Baghdad’s International Zone, 81 mm mortars were fired at Forward Operating Base Falcon, 107 mm rockets were fired at Forward Operating Base Rustamiyah, 60 mm mortars were fired at Joint Security Station Thawra 1, and 60 mm mortars were fired at Joint Security Station SUJ.”

But the bulk of the fighting has been to the South in Basra.  Nibras Kazimi calls this Operation Cavalry Charge, and his comments will be used as a launching pad for our own.

Here’s a prediction: the Iraqi Army’s military operation in Basra will be a spectacular win against disorder and Iranian influence.

Today, the Iraqi Army launched its first major military operation to fully control Basra, the second largest city in Iraq, without any—ANY—Coalition assistance. One source tells me that during the preparation phase of this campaign the Americans offered to position some U.S. Special Forces and air-cover near the Basra battle theater to act as back-up if needed but their Iraqi counterparts planning this operation politely turned down the offer.

This is Operation ‘Cavalry Charge’, which is the best translation I could come up with for صولة الفرسان.

Its chief objective is to flush out the organized crime cartels that control the port of Basra and the oil pipelines of the province. One major criminal force in the Basrawi scene are groups that affiliate themselves with the Sadrist movement and its Mahdi Army. Many of these criminal rings are also associated with certain factions of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard that operate in Basra both for intelligence/sabotage purposes as well as enriching themselves. By knocking out these egregious manifestations of lawlessness, Operation Cavalry Charge will have the accrued benefit of mashing up the more subtle patterns of Iran’s malignant influence in Iraqi Shiism’s foremost economic prize, the oil fields and port of Basra.

But is this how this story is being reported by the US and Arab media? Of course not!

The dominant false narrative du jour goes something like this: the Sadrists are angry over a number of things (arrests, political wrangling with the Hakim family and the Da’awa Party, etc.) so they decided to back away from Sadr’s seven-month ‘ceasefire’ (a term invented by the western media as a deliberately wrongful translation of تجميد وإعادة هيكلة جيش المهدي: “freezing and restructuring the Mahdi Army”) by staging ‘civil disobedience’ (…such as shutting down primary schools and shops by threatening teachers, students and the middle class) but things quickly deteriorated into the perpetual cycles violence that these journalists and pundits are mentally wedded to and have staked their thin expertise on predicting as Iraq’s inevitable fate …

If he wins—and I predict that he will—then he’s holding on to the prime minister’s seat from here until the 2010 elections …

Maliki has sent 50,000 Iraqi soldiers to deal with about a dozen criminal cartels. Militarily, this will be an easy fight. Those counseling caution and delay stressed that smashing Sadrist-related criminal cartels would spark a large-scale Sadrist reaction across Iraq at a time when the Bush administration wants to keep Iraq quiet especially with the ‘4000’ milestone that was being approached and got passed a couple of days ago. Another argument against action counseled that the Iranians are angling for a fire-fight to sully any talk of progress that Gen. Petraeus may give in a couple of weeks when he appears before Congress, and that the Democrats and their allies in the US media would take these images out of Basra and elsewhere and package the news as a “security meltdown” (…which they would and have done so, irrespective of reality).

Maliki decided that he doesn’t give a damn about US presidential elections and that the only timeline that concern him are Iraq’s own upcoming elections. Maliki also concluded, from intensive intelligence reporting, that the Sadrists are weak and that Iran doesn’t really have much punch to its supposed influence in Iraq. That’s why he decided to go for it.

Kazimi is a smart and well-connected Iraqi analyst.  We are always anxious to study his next commentary, although to our disappointment, there are fewer of them being issued.  The Captain’s Journal wants to maintain good relations with Talisman Gate, but one troubling aspect of Kazimi’s analysis emerges.  He is almost pathologically sanguine and optimistic, even to the point of arguing that “Iran doesn’t really have much punch to its supposed influence in Iraq.”

Kazimi continues by discussing the softening of the Sadrists, and then divides the ones shooting in Basra into two categories: “organized crime cartels and the Iranian-managed Special Groups.”  The Shi’a, says Kazimi, have risen above the infighting and see the need to reject and renounce Sadr and his forces.  As for the Iranian-sponsored thugs (presumably here he is discussing other factions such as Badr [SIIC], some Quds fighters, etc.), Kazimi again sees them as being unfruitful for Iran.  Sanguine, to say the least.  He sums up by saying this.

Remember the time when Maliki was bad-mouthed for being soft on the Sadrists and the dominant false narrative of the time had it that he owed his political power to them? I wonder what all the experts who parroted this claim would have to say about Operation Cavalry Charge and Maliki’s role in it?

The Captain’s Journal still doesn’t like Maliki.  This operation should have been conducted years ago, and one troubling aspect of Maliki’s involvement came to light in an ultimatum he issued to the fighters in Basra.  “Iraq’s prime minister on Wednesday gave gunmen in the southern oil port of Basra a three-day deadline to surrender their weapons and renounce violence …”

Kazimi has gotten it right.  The enemy is comprised of Iranian-sponsored thugs and killers, corrupt Sadrists, and criminals who are after oil money (not to mention the Islamist gangs who have beheaded hundreds of women over the last year).  Basra is currently run by a witch’s brew of the worst elements on earth.  To be fighting them is a good thing.  Far from Iraq slipping into chaos, it was always the case that until the Shi’a fighters were taken out like the Sunni insurgents were, there would be no peace in Iraq.

Yet Maliki has issued an ultimatum to these horrible elements to “renounce violence.”  These elements will never renounce violence, but the danger is that they will call Maliki’s bluff and make a show of standing down, only to watch the Iraqi troops redeploy elsewhere and stike up the violence later when they don’t face such trouble.  We have seen this scene play out for quite a while now, starting in 2004 with Sadr.  If this happens, Maliki will look like an inept stooge.

There can be no negotiations with the criminals and terrorists.  They must be captured or killed.  There should be no offer of amnesty, and Kazimi’s analysis of optimism suffers in light of the reality of Maliki’s offer of peace.  Kazimi later notes that the Iraqi Army was operating with the utmost restraint.  The Captain’s Journal responds that the utmost restraint is not called for.  To be sure, noncombatants should be secured and protected.  But the criminals need to see the Iraqi Army as the stronger horse, just like the Anbaris saw the Marines as the stronger horse.  The utmost restraint will not win the campaign.

Kazimi does offer another interesting note.  “The Iraqi Army holds the British Forces cowering behind barbed wire in Basra Airport in the lowest regard; the Iraqis hold the British responsible for dropping the ball in Basra and in Amara, allowing the crime cartels to expand and take root. Iraqi officers regularly dismiss the British military as “sissies” and “cowards”. The Americans have never had a military presence in Basra since the war began in 2003.”

The Captain’s Journal responds that the U.S. was not there because the British were.  As for the British being “sissies” and “cowards,” this seems like excessive language.  We have weighed in before concerning the British strategy, in Calamity in Basra and British Rules of Engagement, The Rise of the JAM, and other subsequent articles.  Also, as British Colonel Tim Collins has pointed out, “Britain’s withdrawal from a chaotic Basra has “badly damaged” its military reputation.”  Damaged indeed.  These Iraqi comments go directly to the Colonel’s point.

But it isn’t the warriors Britain brought to the fight who are to be blamed.  They are as brave and disciplined as any in the world, and more so than most.  It is the British military leadership who couldn’t relinquish their soft counterinsurgency doctrine taken away from their experience in Northern Ireland.  Command is to blame, and the British enlisted men under U.S. leadership would probably have performed as well as the U.S. enlisted men.

On a final note, The Captain’s Journal is as concerned about the SIIC as it is the Sadrists, and maybe more so given how well they have been able to work into the political scene in Iraq.  Remember.  Some of the worst men in history began as politicians and retained their power through political influence.  Being involved in the political scene is not enough.  Iranian influence must be gone, and the SIIC is a major broker of Iranian influence peddling.

Editorial Note: This post has been updated and expanded in Continued Chaos in Basra.




You are currently reading "The Battle in Basra", entry #1015 on The Captain's Journal.

This article is filed under the category(s) Basra,British Army,Iraq and was published March 26th, 2008 by Herschel Smith.

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