As the Smoke Clears Over Basra …

BY Herschel Smith
14 years, 6 months ago

Preliminary Reading:

Calamity in Basra and British Rules of Engagement
The Rise of the JAM
The Battle in Basra
Continued Chaos in Basra
Flushing out the British Narrative
The Basra Backfire

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 are not only questions of commitment and will.  Pentagon officials are also dismayed at the apparent continuing lack of competence of the Iraqi Army.

“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.

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  1. On April 3, 2008 at 1:51 am, LT Nixon said:

    The militia’s ties to Iran are frightful, particularly since Quds force seems to have its fingers in a whole lot of pies. Militia in-fighting and malign Iranian interference will never end until the government of Iraq can provide adequate security and services. That might be a long time…

  2. On April 3, 2008 at 10:37 am, Dawg said:

    The Basrah thing

    The western anti-American media – especially CNN and the Washington Post – have dutifully and lustfully done the propaganda for their latest US enemy hero – Iran, hailing the Iraqi offensive against Iranian proxy terrorists as an “American defeat” and an “Iranian victory”.

    Personally, I don’t buy that at all.

    I agree with most of what Frederic Kagan says in his article about the Basrah Op, which makes a lot of sense.

    Also, my own reflections, impressions and theories, based on what I read and what I hear from Iraqis, tell me that, although it is true that Iran has a lot of tentacles in Iraq and elsewhere, their influence in Baghdad and the south in general is not as cemented as the anti-American pro-terrorist media and equally anti-American “think tanks” want to believe.

    The reason I say this is because, apart form the Kurds, the Iraqis are Arabs and they do NOT like the “Furs”, as they call them – the Persians. This animosity goes back a long time, way before Islam.

    It is true that within the Iraqi govnt. There are shi’a elements who are if not directly loyal to, at least quite influenced by Iran. The same goes for SOME elements of the Iraqi Shi’a clergy and SOME governors.

    Iran also supports pratically all the various armed shi’a terrorist groups in Iraq, especially Hezbollah and the “special groups” as the US Military calls them. The Iranian “qods force” has weapons caches hidden in many places in the south.

    All this is very dangerous.

    But there is the good news about all this, too. From what I hear, The vast majority of regular Iraqis – SHI’A Iraqis, are worried, troubled and down right fed up with Iranian influence in the south. Not long ago several hundreds of thousands of southern shi’a Iraqis signed a petition complaining about and condemning Iranian influence in their part of Iraq. Many tribal sheiks were signatories of that petition.

    Although not even close to the numbers of their sunni counterparts, several shi’a Sahwa (Awakening) groups have been established in Baghdad, Babil and Wassit provinces. Elements – most likely pro-Iranian elements, of the Iraq govnt., are against any shi’a Sahwas just as they are against local elections.

    The reason for this is because they know that the establishment of both, will mean the removal of both the above mentioned elements of govnt. As well as the decline of their political parties. The fact is that Most Iraqis are fed up with the corrupt and inept elements of the Iraq govnt. Also, most Iraqis are disenchanted with the religious parties, whom have only been active in power struggles within their parties and against other shi’a entities. A recent survey showed that only some 25% of shi’a voters would vote for a religious party.

    One of the many good things that the Surge has accomplished is the Sahwas and the GRASS ROOTS RECONCILIATION between sunni and shi’a in, above all, the southern Baghdad belts and in some cases in Baghdad itself. Not sure about Diyala, though. This is now beginning to morph into POLITICAL parties. At least on the sunni side of the Sahwa. I am sure that this is in the works – on the sly – on the shi’a side of the Sahwa, too, organized by the US Military and diplomats. Most Iraq shi’a are more than fed up with the various “militias”, who are nothing else but thugs and terrorists. A lot of the JAM leadership has been killed or captured, many times as a result of local shi’a informants, who have come to the same conclusion as the sunni did about al quaeda and allied sunnit terrorist groups. “Better to work with the Americans” than to continue to suffer under the thugs.

    The coming elections will undoubtedly see the creation of new political parties, most of whom with origins in the Sahwa.

    The challenge with that will be to get the various tribes to get along within the political parties and that is easier said than done. But the silver lining with that is that they will be Iraqi tribes uniting and squabbling and probably to some degree, fighting. After all, it IS Iraq. They will be IRAQIS and not Persians, Saudis, etc.

    With a groundswell of Iraqis against Iranian presence in Iraq, the Persian dream of dominating Iraq will be finished. Unflrtunately, this will cost a lot of blood, though.

    I predict that when Mosul is largely cleansed of al quaeda and other terrorist affiliates, then there will be another – US planned and organized final offensive against JAM, Fadhila and prehaps elements of Badr. The latter is trickier, though, as they have infiltrated the Iraqi army pretty much, as far as I know. But they will be weaker.

  3. On April 22, 2008 at 8:29 am, batman said:

    The latest reports I read are that Maliki and the IA have stepped up and now own Basra and are systematically taking Sadr City. Somebody PLEASE give us an update and revisit what has really happened, and what it means for Iranian influence.

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This article is filed under the category(s) Basra,Iraq and was published April 2nd, 2008 by Herschel Smith.

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