Relations between Britain and Iraq suffered “catastrophic failure” after Baghdad bypassed the British military and called in the American “cavalry” to help the recent offensive against Shia militia in Basra, The Times has learnt.
About 550 US troops, including some from the 82nd Airborne Division, were sent from Baghdad to Basra to join up with 150 American soldiers already serving with Iraqi forces in the southern city.
The Ministry of Defence made much of the fact that British troops, based at Basra airport outside the city, were not requested in the early stages of the operation. British officials claimed that the Basra offensive was proof that Iraqi troops could cope on their own.
The Times has learnt, however, that when Britain’s most senior officer in Basra, Brigadier Julian Free, commander of 4 Mechanised Brigade, flew into the city to find out what was going on, Nouri al-Maliki, the Iraqi Prime Minister, who was orchestrating the attacks on militia strongholds, declined to see him.
Brigadier Free flew to Basra city with Lieutenant-General Lloyd Austin, the commander of American and coalition forces in Iraq, on March 27, two days after the operation began. The Iraqi Prime Minister spoke only to the US general.
A source familiar with the sequence of events said that Mr al-Maliki seemed to have it in for the British because of the alleged “deal” struck with the Shia militia last year under which they agreed not to attack Britain’s last battalion as it withdrew from Basra in return for the release of several of their leading members from prison.
According to The New York Times, Baghdad turned to the Americans for help when the Basra operation was launched. Two senior American military officers, Rear Admiral Edward Winters, a former member of the US Navy Seals special forces unit, and Major-General George Flynn, a Marine, were sent to Basra to help to coordinate the operation. Soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division were drafted in as combat advisers and air controllers were positioned to call in airstrikes …
A source told The Times that US forces were in Basra, eating and sleeping alongside their Iraqi counterparts, “basically doing the work that we were supposed to do. It was a catastrophic failure of diplomacy.”
The source described the moment when the American general arrived at the British base from Baghdad: “Suddenly the cavalry appeared.”
The source said that the Americans provided “loads of technical equipment and combat power”. As soon as the Americans arrived and started hitting houses in Basra, the daily attacks of indirect fire on the British base stopped. The source said that during that time the mood among the British forces on the base was “miserable”.
We knew that the security situation was bad in 2007 and before, but now we learn that Britain dealt with the deaths of seven soldiers due to sniper fire in Basra last year due to the same shooter.
Seven British soldiers were shot in Basra last year by the same sniper rifle, the Ministry of Defence has revealed.
The troops were picked off one by one on the streets of the southern Iraqi city by a weapon firing high-velocity American-made bullets.
Rifleman Aaron Lincoln, 18, Kingsman Danny Wilson, 28, Kingsman Alan Jones, 20, Corporal Rodney Wilson, 30, Rifleman Paul Donnachie, 18, and two others who have not yet been named, were all killed by bullets from the same weapon, said a spokesman for the MoD.
But he could not verify that a single gunman was responsible.
Rifleman Lincoln, of the 2nd Battalion, The Rifles, was killed on April 2 last year by a single bullet that penetrated his protective glasses and helmet, an inquest in Spennymoor, County Durham, heard yesterday.
Of the five soldiers that have been identified, four were shot in April. Corporal Wilson was killed on June 7.
Ballistics expert Ann Kiernan told the inquest: “There had been several incidents where projectiles have all been discharged from the same rifle.”
The bullets were made by arms manufacturer Lake City Arsenal and the hearing was told the military cannot yet provide helmets strong enough to withstand such powerful ammunition.
Rifleman Lincoln’s platoon had been sent on to the city streets as part of an operation to divert enemy attention from a re-supply convoy of 30 trucks due at the British camp.
Coroner Andrew Tweddle said he was concerned the bullet had penetrated the soldier’s helmet, but noted evidence given that the Army were unable to “provide a higher level of protection”.
He recorded a narrative verdict of unlawful killing, adding that Rifleman Lincoln was shot by enemy fire. “He sustained a single gun shot wound to the head,’ he said. ‘This 5.56mm, U.S. manufactured round was not fired by friendly forces.’
The answer for the U.S. when sniper fire was encounted in Anbar and Tarmiyah was force projection. The answer for the British was withdrawal, but only after a deal had been struck to give prisoners back in order to avoid being targeted again.
Just deplorable. I lack adequate words to respond.
Michael Ledeen argues (as he has before) that it will be virtually impossible to achieve a durable peace in Iraq without confronting and dealing with the Iranian presence and influence. The Captain’s Journal agrees and has advocated for some time that an insurgency be fomented inside the borders of Iran. There is no end to the gushing reports about success in Basra, in spite of the defections, orders not to fire at the Mahdi militia, and premature stand-down in operations.
The Captain’s Journal has been quite a bit less sanguine about the Basra campaign, and continues to be so. The gushing reports, in addition to ignoring the poor planning and execution of the operation, ignore both its short duration and broader connection to Iran. The campaign in Basra must not be seen in the aggregate. It has now been made clear that Iranian fighters and military leadership -Quds and even Hezbollah – were directing the fight in many areas of Iraq, and that Moqtada al Sadr has become a (militarily) irrelevant mouthpiece for Iran.
The top two U.S. officials in Iraq accused Iran, Syria and Lebanon’s Hezbollah on Tuesday of fueling recent fighting in Baghdad, saying Tehran and Damascus were pursuing a “Lebanization strategy” in Iraq.
“The hand of Iran was very clear in recent weeks,” U.S. commander in Iraq, Army Gen. David Petraeus, said at a hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee.
But Petraeus told lawmakers that Iran’s Qods Force and Hezbollah were funding, training, arming and directing renegade Shi’ite groups he blamed for recent deadly rocket and mortar attacks in the Iraqi capital.
“Unchecked, the special groups pose the greatest long-term threat to the viability of a democratic Iraq,” said the four-star general.
Speaking from Iran, al Sadr said ”the government should “protect the Iraqi people from the booby traps and American militias” and “demand the withdrawal of the occupier or a schedule for its withdrawal from our holy land.” These are the words of Ayatollah Khamenei, and the Mahdi militia is little more than puppets of Iran.
For its part, Tehran was angered by the latest American plan based on a ‘divide and conquer’ approach and fears that Iraq will become a US protectorate after the US has discovered a barrier against the Shia-dominated government in the [predominately] Sunni Sahwa (Awakening) protection forces. Tehran’s apprehension was quite considerable; especially after Bush declared that the Sahwa forces presently number 90,000 strong (members receive monthly salary of US $300).
Through an editorial written by Selig S. Harrison in the ‘Boston Globe’, Tehran was able communicate its point across to the US: “Unless [General David] Petraeus drastically cuts back the Sunni militias, Tehran will unleash the Shia militias against US forces again and step up to help al Maliki’s intelligence service, the Ministry of National Security.” This was followed by al Maliki’s attack on the Mehdi army in Basra.
The article written by the stooge Selig S. Harrison is entitled Working with Iran to Stabilize Iraq, a strategy also endorsed by Senator Jim Webb. But assisting in the stability of Iraq is the last thing Iran can be expected to do. The failure of the Basra campaign is simply that it stopped far short of what is needed. Iran has become masters at starting, stopping, delaying, relocating, withdrawing, calling for a truce, hiding in the shadows, and in general conducting surreptitious warfare against the U.S. This is exactly what has happened in Basra.
The Mehdi militiamen withdrew from the streets after six days of fighting, but they appear to have taken their arms with them, defying Prime Minister Maliki’s initial demand that all militia-held medium and heavy weapons be surrendered.
The political leadership of Iraq is saying that there was no deal with the Mehdi militia to stop the fighting.
On Thursday Mr Maliki insisted he had not ordered negotiations with Moqtada Sadr.
And a source close to the prime minister says that Moqtada Sadr’s order to cease fighting came at the instigation of Iran.
The source said that as the bloodshed in Basra began early last week, Moqtada Sadr tried to telephone Prime Minister Maliki from Qom, in Iran – and the prime minister refused to take his call.
But a delegation from the United Iraqi Alliance, the parliamentary bloc that supports Mr Maliki, flew to Tehran, where they told representatives of the Iranian leadership that Iran’s involvement in stirring up the militia violence was unacceptable and would have to stop, the source said.
They pointed out that Iranian munitions were being used in the fighting.
The Iranian leadership, according to the source, then brought Moqtada Sadr to Tehran.
There, late on Saturday night, he crafted the statement that would order his Mehdi Army militiamen off the streets, the source said.
In this version of events, the Iraqi prime minister retains the ability to deny entering talks with Moqtada Sadr. In effect, it appears to have been done for him, with Iranian influence brought to bear.
In order to obtain a victory in Basra and Sadr City proper, Maliki and the Multinational Force must think regionally. Several important tactics must be pressed. First, the Mahdi militia must be completely taken out and disarmed. They can be seen as nothing more than Iranian proxy fighters. Second, the SIIC (otherwise ISCI) has a great influence in Shi’ite Iraq, and it must be dealt with. As Fred Kaplan notes, “the Iranians won because Maliki turned to them to mediate the cease-fire with Sadr, thus confirming their status as a major player in Iraqi politics and a dominant power on Iraq’s southern port. (The Iranians probably would have won no matter what happened, because the rival Shiite militia backing Maliki—the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, 10,000 members of which fought alongside the official army—also has ties to Iran. Maliki afterward admitted those 10,000 into the national armed forces. Does this mean that the ISCI militia has been co-opted into the Iraqi government—or that the government is, even more than before, controlled by the militia?).”
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.
At the moment, The Captain’s Journal is unpersuaded that any good has come from Basra and Sadr city fighting. The campaign isn’t over, but with General David Petraeus, we are disappointed in the results so far.
The Long War Journal is discussing the idea that the Iraqi Army is following in the footsteps of the U.S. Army in dividing the Mahdi militia into legitimate actors and criminals. We respectfully disagree. Both Badr and the Mahdi militia have taken weapons and received training from Iran, and also serve Iranian intentions of undermining stability in Iraq, notwithstanding the show of political legitimacy by Badr. The SIIC and Sadrists will not become a legitimate part of Iraq until force is projected into their camp and ties with Iran are cut. We continue to believe that Operation Cavalry Charge has adequate forces and that the root problem is a lack of political will on the part of both Maliki and the Iraqi Army. Recent reports justify this narrative.
On the eve of the Iraqi government’s showdown last week with radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and his Mahdi Army militia, Ismail Shnawa’s commander ordered him not to fight.
“He told us not to shoot back even if we get shot at by the Mahdi Army,” said Shnawa, a soldier in Iraq’s paramilitary police force that is commanded by the Iraqi army.
The six-day showdown with al-Sadr and other Shiite militias was the toughest test for Iraqi government forces since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003. The week of violence exposed troubling signs that the country’s security forces have much work before they can take over for U.S. troops. Militias and their followers remain entrenched within the government forces, and units sympathetic to al-Sadr, such as Shnawa’s, refused to fight.
In the southern town of Basra, more than 400 Iraqi soldiers and officers handed their weapons to the enemy, Ministry of Interior spokesman Abdel Karim Khalaf said.
In Baghdad, at least 65 Iraqi soldiers and policemen switched loyalties, said Baghdad’s deputy mayor, Naeem al-Kaabi, a Sadrist leader. Many others either wouldn’t fight or willingly surrendered, including Shnawa and 50 others in his unit …
“The Sadrists control more areas in Basra than when the fighting began,” said Osama al-Nujaif, a secular Sunni lawmaker who helped broker the cease-fire.
“There is no empirical evidence that the Iraqi forces can stand up” on their own, a senior U.S. military official in Washington said, reflecting the frustration of some at the Pentagon. He and other military officials requested anonymity because they weren’t authorized to speak on the record.
Four military officials said Tuesday that the Americans were aware in general terms of the coming offensive but were surprised by the timing and by the Iraqis’ almost immediate need for U.S. air support and other help.
Whatever happens in Basra, any potential good will come spuriously rather than as a result of decisive action by the either the British or Iraqi Armies. As the smoke clears in Basra, it will become even more obvious that it didn’t come from battle. The smoke helped to hide the more ugly facts of the operation, like targeting the Sadrists and leaving SIIC alone, defections within the police and Army, brokering of a ceasefire by the Iranians, and on the sorry story goes.
Five days ago when warning of the potential affects of lack of political will to see the battle for Basra through to the end, In The Battle in Basra, we said:
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 strike 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.
The lack of political will seems to have caused just that, with Maliki calling for repeated extensions of the amnesty program for the Sadrists and lack of progress by the Iraqi Army.
Residents buried their dead after calm returned to the southern Iraqi city of Basra on Monday, but fighting broke out in Baghdad despite a truce called by Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr to end a week of bloodshed.
Sadr called his Mehdi Army fighters off the streets on Sunday, nearly a week after Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki launched a crackdown on them, sparking clashes that spread through the mainly Shi’ite south and also the capital.
Political analysts said the government offensive in the oil port of Basra appeared to have backfired by exposing the weakness of Maliki’s army.
Worse still, the Iranians brokered the ceasefire and stand down of the Sadrists. The indications of lack of political will are numerous:  The British are sitting behind barbed wire at the Basra airport while the battle ensues,  Maliki extended the offer of amnesty multiple times,  the Iraqi Army targeted the Sadrists and left the SIIC unmolested,  Maliki appears to be hailing the ceasefire as a good move,  Iran is further empowered, and  Sadr and the SIIC leadership are still alive, unmolested and in command or their respective militias (perhaps Sadr less so, with Iran more so than before).
The upshot is that the sickness in the Maliki administration is laid bare and the strength of Iran was clear from the beginning. The Captain’s Journal has understood this all along. But for the uninitiated, these things might be revelatory. Now that the truth is unmasked, what will be the response of the Multinational Force? What will Maliki do, if anything?
Following or coincident with our own article on the recent Basra violence (The Battle in Basra), there are numerous commentaries and articles on the same subject. We will assess some of the more interesting ones below. In addition to the chaos in Basra, there is chaos in the blogs and main stream media reports.
The Small Wars Journal blog has an interesting roundup of links (Debating Basra) with summary paragraphs for each. As usual, the SWJ editors are on the spot with valuable information.
At Abu Muqawama, Charlie has a post up offering suggestions as to what exactly might have happened to the British in Basra (Abu’s blog is friendly to the Brits and soft COIN doctrine, so this is an interesting take). Charlie blames it on the possibility that “the Brits adopted a “peacekeeping” mindset in Basra and never really engaged in a broader COIN or CT effort. That meant that all the myriad Shi’a groups were able to pursue their (relatively) non-violent political agenda and consolidate control over the political levers of city.”
Relatively non-violent agenda? Charlie has been reading too many books and hasn’t kept up with the goings on in Basra, and later Spencer Ackerman weighs in: “Withdrawing without any political strategy, as the British did from Basra, leads to a vacuum like the one we’re seeing now. Sadr rushes in. The Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq rushes in. The Fadhila party maneuvers between the two. Forces ostensibly loyal to the government, pinioned between all sides, find ways to accommodate the existing power on the streets. In other words: chaos.”
In mid-2007 when the British retreated from Basra, they did so while telling the tall tale that since the very presence of the British themselves was causing the violence, it would be better if they just left. In other words, no one would shoot at the British Army if the Army wasn’t there. There wasn’t a rush of anyone or any faction into Basra. They were already there and had control of the city. The British never had control of Basra, and from the beginning it was left to Shi’a factions, criminal elements, Iranian proxy fighters (Badr, Quds), and the loss of Basra was a constant diminution of civilization up to the point that the British ended up behind barbed wire at the Basra airport, contributing nothing to the Iraq campaign. We have already linked Nibras Kazimi who, in the update to his post, conveys the Iraqi sentiment concerning the British Army. It isn’t flattering, and British Colonel Tim Collins knows and has said that the retreat from Basra has badly damaged the reputation of the British Army.
From my contacts in the Marines, they had always known that after securing the Anbar province, it was always a possibility that they would have to go in and clean up the mess left by the British in Southern Iraq. There are now published reports that the Marines may get saddled with this chore.
Marc Lynch at Abu Aardvark has a very smart post in which he examines the idea that Iran is liquidating its no longer useful proxies, including Sadr. This idea has some merit, since Moqtada al Sadr is currently in Iran, especially as seen against the backdrop of what Iran did with Hassan Nasrallah last year. Nasrallah was demoted and the responsibility for military operations of Hezbollah were removed from him.
The Belmont Club questions the absurd narrative where Iran is trying to advance peace by restraining Sadr. This theory follows closely in line with Amir Taheri’s silly New York Post article where he promulgated the idea that Tehran now worries about a premature Iraq exit, and wants stability in the region. From the absurd to the sensible.
Reidar Visser has a sophisticated article entitled The Enigmatic Second Battle of Basra, in which he points out something that obviously troubled us when we wrote The Battle in Basra, writing “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.” Visser writes:
… there is a discrepancy between the description of Basra as a city ruled by militias (in the plural) – which is doubtless correct – and the battlefield facts of the ongoing operations which seem to target only one of these militia groups, the Mahdi Army loyal to Muqtada al-Sadr. Surely, if the aim was to make Basra a safer place, it would have been logical to do something to also stem the influence of the other militias loyal to the local competitors of the Sadrists, the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI), as well as the armed groups allied to the Fadila party (which have dominated the oil protection services for a long time). But so far, only Sadrists have complained about attacks by government forces.
This is a powerful point, and undercuts Nibras Kazimi’s narrative of Maliki as in charge and powerful enough to retain control of Iraq and oust the Shi’a militias.
With the threat of a civil war looming in the south, Nouri al-Maliki’s police chief in Basra narrowly escaped assassination in the crucial port city, while in Baghdad, the spokesman for the Iraqi side of the US military surge was kidnapped by gunmen and his house burnt to the ground.
Saboteurs also blew up one of Iraq’s two main oil pipelines from Basra, cutting at least a third of the exports from the city which provides 80 per cent of government revenue, a clear sign that the militias — who siphon significant sums off the oil smuggling trade — would not stop at mere insurrection.
In Baghdad, thick black smoke hung over the city centre tonight and gunfire echoed across the city.
The most secure area of the capital, Karrada, was placed under curfew amid fears the Mahdi Army of Hojetoleslam Moqtada al-Sadr could launch an assault on the residence of Abdelaziz al-Hakim, the head of a powerful rival Shia governing party.
While the Mahdi Army has not officially renounced its six-month ceasefire, which has been a key component in the recent security gains, on the ground its fighters were chasing police and soldiers from their positions across Baghdad.
But Maliki says there will be no retreat. “Iraq’s prime minister vowed Thursday to fight “until the end” against Shiite militias in Basra despite protests by tens of thousands of followers of a radical cleric in Baghdad and deadly clashes across the capital and the oil-rich south.”
Bill Roggio says that the current operation has been in the planning stages since the middle of 2007. This Al Jazeera coverage (h/t Noah Shachtman) gives one the impression that the surge and strategy change had absolutely nothing to do with the the drop in violence across Iraq, but rather, the so-called ceasefire by Sadr is credited, this ceasefire being in danger of breaking down.
One of the many problems with this analysis is that it ignores the role that the British played, unwittingly, in the strengthening of the Sadrists. Further, this analysis treats Basra as if it represents all of Iraq, and clearly it doesn’t. At approximately 17:20 into this Charlie Rose interview of John Burns, you can see for yourself the role the British played in the release of Sadr who was actually in the custody of the 3/2 Marines in 2004.
There are troubling aspects of the current campaign, but in the end, the SIIC is too deeply embedded into the political fabric to root out at the moment with military action, or so Maliki may think. This is disconcerting, in that it continues Iran’s influence inside of Iraq. But in the end, it may be too easy to see too many complexities in the campaign, thus missing the forest for the trees.
The British wore soft covers and went into Basra with the counterinsurgency doctrine learned from their experience in Northern Ireland. As we said in COIN is Context-Driven, “whether Protestant or Roman Catholic, greater U.K. or English, the fact of the matter is that this was COIN among their own people. They were the same, at least as compared to Iraq. The religious, cultural, societal, and political framework was the same; the ethical morays were the same; the language was the same; and by and large the history is the same. When the British landed in Basra, they may as well have been placed on a different planet. Nothing was the same, and thus whatever the British learned in Northern Ireland instantly became irrelevant.”
Southern Iraq was not Northern Ireland, and the Shi’a gangs, criminals and Iranian proxy fighters were looking for the stronger tribe to rise to the top. It did, and it wasn’t the British, due to no fault of their enlisted men, a failure that must be laid entirely at the feet of their command. General Jack Keane recommends that the U.K. engage in a “surge” of its own in Basra. But this misses the point. There not only weren’t enough troops, the strategy was mistaken from the beginning and the British have spent their wallet on the campaign. They no longer demand respect from the Iraqi people and thus have become merely baggage.
Today Basra is paying the price for their ill-conceived strategy. The Basra problems are not, as so many main stream media reports have mistakenly said, proof of the failure of the surge, since U.S. troops are not now and have never been in Basra. Nor is Sadr powerful enough to thwart the intentions of U.S. forces in Iraq. It is frankly hard to imagine any more difficult a situation than Anbar a year or two ago. One could have asserted the impossibility of pacification of Anbar because of the competing Sunni factions - al Qaeda, Saddam Fedayeen, Ansar al Sunna, holdover hard line Ba’athists, and all of the other groups – but the Marines prevailed. They did so because they were the stronger horse (a notion that Osama Bin Laden has himself hailed as being important in this region of the world). Until forces enter Basra who are seen as a stronger horse as compared to the Iranian-sponsored criminals, peace will not come to Iraq.
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.”
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.
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.