The British Deal with the Mahdi Militia

BY Herschel Smith
8 years, 4 months ago

The Times Online has given us a further glimpse into secret deals between the British and the Mahdi militia that kept the Brits out of the recent battle for Basra.

A secret deal between Britain and the notorious al-Mahdi militia prevented British Forces from coming to the aid of their US and Iraqi allies for nearly a week during the battle for Basra this year, The Times has learnt.

Four thousand British troops – including elements of the SAS and an entire mechanised brigade – watched from the sidelines for six days because of an “accommodation” with the Iranian-backed group, according to American and Iraqi officers who took part in the assault.

US Marines and soldiers had to be rushed in to fill the void, fighting bitter street battles and facing mortar fire, rockets and roadside bombs with their Iraqi counterparts.

Hundreds of militiamen were killed or arrested in the fighting. About 60 Iraqis were killed or injured. One US Marine died and seven were wounded.

US advisers who accompanied the Iraqi forces into the fight were shocked to learn of the accommodation made last summer by British Intelligence and elements of al-Mahdi Army, the militia loyal to Moqtada al-Sadr, the radical Shia Muslim cleric.

The deal, which aimed to encourage the Shia movement back into the political process and marginalise extremist factions, has dealt a huge blow to Britain’s reputation in Iraq.

A spokesman for the MoD said that the reason why troops were not sent immediately into Basra was because there was “no structure in place” in the city for units to go back in to start mentoring the Iraqi troops.

Colonel Imad, who heads the 2nd Battalion, 1st Brigade, 1st Iraqi Army Division, the most experienced division, commanded one of the quick-reaction battalions summoned to assist British-trained local forces, who faltered from the outset because of inexperience and lack of support.

He said: “Without the support of the Americans we would not have accomplished the mission because the British Forces had done nothing there …

You can accuse the Americans of many things [said one MoD source], such as hamfistedness, but you can’t accuse them of not addressing a situation when it arises. While we had a strategy of evasion, the Americans just went in and addressed the problem.”

Another British official said that the deal was intended as an IRA-style reconciliation. “That is what we were trying to do but it did not work.” The official added that “accommodation” had become a dirty word.

US officials knew of the discussions, which continued until March this year. They facilitated the peaceful exit of British troops from a palace compound in Basra last September in return for the release of a number of prisoners. The arrangement fell apart on March 25 when Mr al-Maliki ordered his surprise assault on Basra, catching both the Americans and British off-guard.

Let’s observe at the outset what we have observed before in British Rules of Engagement and Brave Warriors. The British armed forces contains some of the best grunts on earth. It’s the leadership that’s the problem, as it has always been.

Next, there are so many layers of MoD subterfuge in this piece that the gullible would become confused. Fortunately, we at The Captain’s Journal aren’t gullible. The article makes it sound as if the once peaceful Basra allowed the Jaish al Mahdi and the British to cut a deal, allowing the Brits to “peacefully” redeploy to the airport. This is pure fabrication and fairy tales. From the beginning of the British effort in Basra there has been a continual degradation of security (see Calamity in Basra and British Rules of Engagement).

Concerning the MoD accusation of American “hamfistedness,” this tactic has become comical if not completely tired and worn out. The U.S. Marines won Anbar. The British lost Basra. For the Brits to wax eloquent about American hamfistedness is rather like complaining that the Little British Car doesn’t go as fast as the American Muscle Car. It’s prideful whining while brave men die and lose limbs, brain function, hearing and eyesight. It’s sickening.

As for the IRA-style reconciliation, it has been long known that the British pulled their irrelevant experience from Northern Ireland into the campaign for Iraq. It failed them from the outset, but the outmoded paradigm was never relinquished by British senior military leadership. Again, it’s the leadership (from Des Browne on down) that is to blame.

Finally, reputations are quick to be lost and hard to gain back. The British have come away from the campaign badly damaged, and yet they still carry forward the failed policies of negotiations – this time with the Taliban in Afghanistan. The British reputation can be rebuilt, but not like that.

Prior:

The Example of Musa Qala

British Leadership Without a Clue

Competing Strategies in Afghanistan

The Good and Bad in Basra

More British Trouble in Basra

Flushing Out the British Narrative

Continued Chaos in Basra

Talking with the Enemy

Calamity in Basra and British Rules of Engagement

The Rise of the JAM

  • Warbucks

    Has it be determined for certain that the British High Command as issued live ammo?

  • Dawg

    Basra, Maysan and Musa Qala in Afghanistan. That is what the brits (who keep telling us they are the best in the world and how our WARRIORS are “unprofessional cowboys” and other insults. Thing is, despite hard facts, the brits still believe all that nonsense. They will not, cannot learn. That nobody respects them.


You are currently reading "The British Deal with the Mahdi Militia", entry #1228 on The Captain's Journal.

This article is filed under the category(s) Basra,Britain,British Army and was published August 5th, 2008 by Herschel Smith.

If you're interested in what else the The Captain's Journal has to say, you might try thumbing through the archives and visiting the main index, or; perhaps you would like to learn more about TCJ.

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