Thoughts on the Fighting in Basra

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 4 months ago

Grim of Blackfive is back from Iraq where he served as a civilian consultant.  The Captain’s Journal likes Grim.  He is a thinking man, and every thought he gives us makes us smarter, whether we agree or not.  In this case, he opines on several things, one of which is the recent fighting in Basra.

The Shia problem is armed factionalism.  The current violence of this last month and going forward represents the start of the solution to that problem.  People alarmed by the violence have missed the story. 

The GoI and the JAM are both disaggregating their bad elements.  Mickey Kaus deserves credit for noticing, at least as far as the GoI goes:

Whether it was an incremental success or a humiliating fizzle, hasn’t the Maliki government’s assault on Sadr-linked Shiite militias operated, de facto, as a highly efficient purge of the Iraqi army? According to Juan Cole, those who heeded calls for defection or who otherwise refused to fight have been fired. … P.S.: Meanwhile, some 10,000 militia members who did fight on the government’s side have reportedly been inducted into the security forces.

What people have not noticed is that JAM is doing essentially the same thing.  For quite some time Sadr has been purging JAM of elements that do not obey him.  Sadr has said that he will disown members who violate the ceasefire, excepting in self-defense.  His proposed truce calls for patience from his members, and comes “after receiving assurances” that his membership will not be targetted if he has them stand down. 

Those who continue to fight will be ready prey for the Iraqi security forces, many of whom are from the Badr faction.  As Wretchard noted, the de facto arbiter of the Shia situation is al Sistani, who has declared that the militias are not legitimate authorities in Iraq.  And — again, crediting Kaus for his careful thinking about what he reads — the political debates within the Iraqi government seem to favor this overall movement.  (It’s also worth nothing that the calls for the JAM to surrender its arms have really been only for heavy weapons — that is, they could retain small arms, as the Sons of Iraq do.) 

The recent violence has been healthy, then.  Disaggregation of irreconcilable elements is a key element to our COIN strategy; here we see it happening naturally.  The political process appears to be strengthened, and the Sunni blocks are now participating in helping to settle the Shiite question in a manner acceptable to themselves — as are the Kurds.  That sounds like a genuine national coalition forming, one that will accept Sadr as a political figure.

I have moderate disagreement with Grim on Basra.  In Jeremiah 13:23, we are rhetorically asked if a leopard can change its spots?  We have seen how Sadr allegedly is eyeing Sistani’s position of authority, undergoing religious training in Iran.  Sadr is a radical Islamist, and for him to be a legitimate political figure in Iraq is akin to the Mullahs ruling Iran.  He is an arm of Iranian military and political power, just like Hezbollah in Lebanon.  He isn’t finished yet.  It is badly premature to draft his obituary.  It would be better for Iraq and the U.S. to make it clear that Sadr isn’t welcome inside Iraq any more.

Furthermore, as we observed in Basra and Iran, “In order to cut ties with Iran, the SIIC “members” of the Iraqi Security Forces – who had to fight only rival miltias in Basra this time around – should be forced to rid Iraq of all Iranian influence, including Quds, Hezbollah, IRG and any other proxy Iranian fighters.  Failure to do so, from leadership down to the lowest ranking soldier, should be addressed as treason.  Until the SIIC is forced to fight for Iraq as opposed to fighting against rival gangs, they too are merely Iranian proxy forces.”

Badr was originally formed as part of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, and still receive pensions from the IRGC.  It is important to get a clear picture on this issue.  They are, quite literally, on the payroll of Iran.  Until they are put into a position where they have to prove their loyalty to Iraq, the fighting in Basra might be intra-Shi’a gang warfare aided by the Iraqi Army (and some by U.S. forces).

There are tens of thousands of Iranian fighters inside Iraq.  Five days of fighting in Basra and a few more in Sadr City are not enough to rid Iraq of Iranian influence.  We are only at the very beginning stages of the fight in the South.  Since Britain implemented the “we may as well go ahead and give all of the terrain to the enemy” approach to counterinsurgency, the developments in the South lag far behind the West and North.

There are miles to go before we sleep.


You are currently reading "Thoughts on the Fighting in Basra", entry #1039 on The Captain's Journal.

This article is filed under the category(s) Basra,Britain,British Army,Iran,Iraq and was published April 12th, 2008 by Herschel Smith.

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