The Good and Bad in Basra

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 3 months ago

Good information coming from the campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan is always welcome, but it pays to be careful, analytical, independent and questioning.  Michael Yon is without a doubt the best and most prolific reporter who has been in Iraq.  The Captain’s Journal highly respects Yon, but even he can miss the mark, even if only infrequently.  As reported by Glenn Reynolds at Instapundit, Yon was heralding the advent of peace in Basra half a year ago.

MICHAEL YON POINTS TO THIS REPORT and emails: “Basra is not in chaos. In fact, crime and violence are way down and there has not been a British combat death in over a month. The report below is false.” False reports from Iraq? Say it isn’t so!

And, via the comments in this post, an article from The Telegraph that supports Yon’s version more than the other: “Indeed, wherever one looks in the British sector, there are grounds to believe that, far from degenerating into all-out civil war, the Iraqis are finally coming to terms with their post-Saddam condition and are starting to acquire the confidence and the institutions necessary for running their affairs.”

At the time, The Captain’s Journal had studied the reports of Iraqi Omar Fadhil who flatly stated that while he would not have crossed Anbar months before (and would now), he would not even consider going into the Shi’a South.  We saw women being beheaded by gangs of fundamentalist Shi’a thugs.  We also studied the rules of engagement of the British, and knew that Basra would be lost.  We politely and quietly retorted to Glenn Reynolds that “Yon is great and worthy of admiration, but he has this wrong.  If there is peace, it is only to the extent that the gangs have agreed upon their turf and the population has been subjugated to their rule” (or something along those lines).  It is important not to twist the bad news into good news, as we have been warned by the Multinational Force, partly because when it is later proven to have been twisted (or perhaps more correctly, misinterpreted), it always redounds to a loss of credibility.

There is good news and bad news in the Basra fighting.  The good news is that there is Basra fighting.  It was well past time to confront the radical Shi’a militias, and at least one of them, the Mahdi militia, is being battered and has had to call for a truce.  The bad news is that many of them have not stood down and retain their weapons.  We have seen Sadr’s forces stand down before when the fighting ended too soon.  This is a recurring model.

The good news is that there has been more than a week of fighting in Basra and Sadr City.  The bad news is that this is only little more than a week old and there is much more to go.  The good news is that Maliki finally had the courage to go on the offensive against Sadr.  The bad news is that, according to General Petraeus, the campaign was very poorly planned and almost spurious.

For the British, the results are all bad.  David Frum writes from a reader in Basra:

I cannot comment on troop movements and other assets, but I will say that I am gratified with what the US is doing.  The British have been completely marginalized, though.  I would look for an eventual, low-key exit by the Brits covered by talk of concentrating on Afghanistan.

The Times reports:

In Basra the signs of the feared militia are slowly receding. For the first time in years alcohol vendors are selling beer close to army checkpoints, and ringtones praising the rebel cleric Hojatoleslam Moqtada al-Sadr are vanishing from mobile phones. Music shops are once again selling pop tunes instead of the recorded lectures of Shia ayatollahs.

But, as the city cautiously comes back to life after an offensive by Iraqi troops backed by hundreds of US soldiers, there is a lingering resentment towards the British Army.

Many here blame the British for allowing the al-Mahdi Army and other militias to impose a long reign of terror on the once cosmopolitan city …

“I think the British troops were the main reason that militias became very powerful,” complained InasAbed Ali, a teacher. “They didn’t fight them properly and, when they found themselves losing in the city, they moved out to the airport and chose to negotiate with the militias and criminal groups as if they were legal.”

“The British Army had no role in Basra,” Rahman Hadi, a coffee shop owner, said. “We haven’t seen any achievements by them in the streets of Basra. I don’t know why their troops didn’t respond to the acts of these militias for long years, after seeing all the suffering that Basra people went through.”

Even senior Iraqi officers admitted that the hands-off British approach to policing the city had given the militias free rein.

Peter Oborne at the Daily Mail opines:

British military history contains more than its fair share of glorious victories, but there have also been notable disasters. It has become horrifyingly clear that one of these is our involvement in southern Iraq, culminating in our soldiers’ exit from Basra Palace late last year.

Nibras Kazimi reports:

“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 news for Maliki is mixed, and very levelheaded analysis comes from Iraqi Mohammed Fadhil of Iraq the Model.

Perhaps the biggest mistake in the battle, which did not end with victory in spite of the courage exhibited in the decision to engage the enemy, was Maliki’s decision to personally lead the battle as the commander in chief of armed forces. Apparently he did this without proper consultation or in depth calculation of consequences. He forgot that by going there in person he made a commitment to go to the end. But the battle did not end in any meaningful way and so in spite of the determination in his words the prestige and credibility of the state were under threat.

Some people began to mock the operation calling it “Qadissiyat Al-Maliki” (in reference to Qadissiyat Saddam, the name Saddam used to call the 8-year war with Iran) others went as far as calling it the Rats Charge instead of Knights Charge. The reason is that the leader was there in person yet he couldn’t finish the job.

It was evident from Maliki’s words that patience was over and that the situation could no longer be settled with negotiations but it didn’t work out as desired. Had Maliki not been the direct commander of the battle the outcome would have perhaps been considered a tactical win. But his presence turned the battle into a strategic campaign for which neither Maliki nor the troops were prepared.

As for Iran, Stephen Hadley explains that they are still a major threat, and Secretary of Defense Gates inexplicably states that it is unlikely that the U.S. will ever confront Iranian forces inside of Iraq.  This is not finished, and there will likely be both good news and bad news for quite some time into the future concerning the Iraq South.  The Captain’s Journal will not engage in talking points.  We will follow the truth, and as always, beg for defeat of the enemy.




You are currently reading "The Good and Bad in Basra", entry #1041 on The Captain's Journal.

This article is filed under the category(s) Basra,Britain,British Army,Iran,Iraq and was published April 14th, 2008 by Herschel Smith.

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