Archive for the 'Basra' Category

Rules of Engagement: Letting the Enemy Go Free

BY Herschel Smith
14 years, 6 months ago

More than two years ago I outlined the calamity that British rules of engagement had caused to their campaign in Basra.  The security situation began very well at the initiation of Operation Iraqi Freedom, but devolved into one in which the British were completely ineffective at fighting the insurgency and had evacuated their outposts and retreated to their largest base.

Due to leaked MoD papers we now know certain details directly from the British on just how hamstrung their troop were due to the ROE.

Despite fighting “the most sustained conflict since the Korean War”, the rules left troops with one hand tied behind their backs, the secret documents said. Ministers refused to change the rules although they caused “significant” casualties.

British soldiers were banned from opening fire unless the Iraqis were actually pointing their weapons at them.

Insurgents from Muqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army quickly “worked out” the rules and exploited them causing many casualties, according to the documents.

“On many occasions,” says one, British patrols in the town of Amarah saw “Muqtada militia stood on rooftops from where they had fired in the past, with rocket-propelled grenades and small arms at their feet”.

Although clearly waiting to attack, the Iraqis could not be fired on because they were not pointing their weapons at the British. As the patrol passed, say the documents, the insurgents would then “pick up their weapons and fire”.

The documents leaked to The Daily Telegraph are secret “post-operational reports” written by British commanders in Iraq, and classified transcripts of interviews they gave to the MoD.

In them, Major General Andrew Stewart, the senior British operational commander in Iraq, says: “The US could not believe that in our area you were not able to fire at someone who had a weapon just because he wasn’t pointing it at you.”

The Americans were on warfighting tactics, yet Britain stuck to its “peacekeeping” rules despite a significant upsurge in violence after the arrest of a key al-Sadr lieutenant in 2004 …

In one of its fiercest engagements, the “Battle of Danny Boy”, at a checkpoint in May 2004, the British were attacked by 100 insurgents, leaving two soldiers seriously injured. Yet, the documents say, they had to allow 40 of the attackers to “walk away” with their weapons, after they lowered their guns. The same people later attacked the unit again, killing two soldiers.

The documents appear to show that Gen Stewart tried to get the rules of engagement changed, but was frustrated by ministers.

He says that the rules his men were working under did contain a “dormant war-fighting profile,” allowing more action, but “activation of this profile was reserved to Ministerial level” and did not happen.

Gen Stewart describes the rules of engagement as “constraining,” and “frustrating” but says they “did help us win over the locals by not being over-robust… you have to show restraint if you are to win hearts and minds”.

From another account by a British Soldier, “In 2003 the rules were that if someone shot at you, you could shoot them back but not if they were turned with their back to you.”

This last part about restrictive ROE helping to win over the locals is a bit of wishful thinking and fatuous, doctrinaire absurdity.  If the locals had been won over they would have given up the insurgency.  As it was, the Iraqi Security Forces, combined with U.S. forces, had to retake Basra while the British sat at their base watching (later retreating entirely from Basra).

The ISF regularly dismissed the British as sissies and cowards even though they clearly are not, and British Colonel Tim Collins has claimed that the British retreat from Basra has badly damaged the reputation of the British Army (this damage being inflicted by MoD strategy rather than the enlisted men who have been proven to be brave and well trained).

This example should be a clarion call to give chase to and kill the enemy as the surest way to win the hearts and minds of the locals, and thus win the campaign.  You might recall some of the rules of engagement in Afghanistan?

• No night or surprise searches.

• Villagers have to be warned prior to searches.

• ANA or ANP must accompany U.S. units on searches.

• U.S. soldiers may not fire at the enemy unless the enemy is preparing to fire first.

• U.S. forces cannot engage the enemy if civilians are present.

• Only women can search women.

• Troops can fire at an insurgent if they catch him placing an IED but not if insurgents are walking away from an area where explosives have been laid.

These same rules refused artillery support for four Marines who were killed in combat action in the Kunar Province of Afghanistan while pleading for help via radio.  Having forgotten the lessons of Iraq (where robust ROE in Anbar by the Marines helped to win that part of the campaign), we have reverted to the failed British model in Basra.  Intentionally repeating failed history is the strategy of losers.

Final British Withdrawal from Basra

BY Herschel Smith
15 years, 1 month ago

The Captain’s Journal has provided extensive coverage and commentary of the British misadventure in Basra, and without repeating much of what we have said over the past couple of years, it bears mentioning that the U.K. has turned over security to the U.S. and will complete its withdrawal from Basra.  While we have provided extensive analysis of the devolution of security (e.g., see Calamity in Basra and British Rules of Engagement), a recent Asia Times article gives yet another datum that should have been a warning to the Brits concerning the state of affairs in Basra.

Informed British military opinion has repeatedly castigated the British government’s failure – ever since the war’s outbreak – to adequately resource its own soldiers. For the 2003 invasion of southern Iraq – Operation Telic – the British deployed some 46,000 troops, but rapidly reduced this number to around 9,000. This was in hindsight a highly overconfident decision. Furthermore, the initial British post-invasion strategy focused on the use of counter-insurgency techniques learned in Malaysia and Northern Ireland rather than a surge in numbers as effectively piloted further north in Baghdad in 2006 by US General David Petraeus.

But Basra proved not to be like Belfast at all during the British occupation. In the teeth of a fanatical Shi’ite insurgency from 2004 – led by the Shi’ite Mahdi Army and Iran-linked Badr Brigades – mortar, rocket and roadside bomb attacks plagued the overstretched British contingent badly.

Surge tactics were not used while the British lacked sufficient numbers of helicopters and the types of armored vehicles needed to protect against roadside improvised bombs effectively. Relations between the Basra city police – obviously infiltrated by Shi’ite militants – and the British army during 2005-2006 were uncomfortable to put it mildly.

Equally, the British military’s decision in August 2006 to hand over a forward base at Abu Naji, al-Amarah, to Iraqi security forces – many of whom were likewise linked to Shi’ite insurgent groups – has been criticized consistently. This permitted insurgents a safe haven in which to manufacture roadside devices for use against the British with relative impunity.

The hope is that the Iraqi people will be able to reject Iranian hegemony alone, including ridding its own forces of sympathetic elements.  But at least early on, the ISF simply could not be trusted.  Recall one experience of U.S. forces in Anbar.

About a month ago, the Iraqi brigade, which is predominantly Shiite, was assigned a new area and instructed to stay away from Nasr Wa Salam, Colonel Pinkerton said. But he said he believed that the Iraqi soldiers remain intent on preventing Sunni Arabs, a majority here, from controlling the area. He cites a pattern of aggression by Iraqi troops toward Abu Azzam’s men and other Sunnis, who he believes are often detained for no reason.

Recently, and without warning, Colonel Pinkerton said, 80 Iraqi soldiers in armored vehicles charged out of their sector toward Nasr Wa Salam but were blocked by an American platoon. The Iraqis refused to say where they were going and threatened to drive right through the American soldiers, whom they greatly outnumbered.

Eventually, with Apache helicopter gunships circling overhead and American gunners aiming their weapons at them, the Iraqi soldiers retreated. “It hasn’t come to firing bullets yet,” Colonel Pinkerton said …

Colonel Pinkerton’s experiences here, he said, have inverted the usual American instincts born of years of hard fighting against Sunni insurgents.

“I could stand among 1,800 Sunnis in Abu Ghraib,” he said, “and feel more comfortable than standing in a formation of Iraqi soldiers.”

And one example from Fallujah, 2007.  The Marines fought alongside former insurgents and against hard core insurgents and al Qaeda, and the relationship was one of trust.  As for the Iraqi Security Forces of which people like Nibras Kazimi sing the praises, the Marines would never sleep around them without an armed duty Marine, and without being separated by concertina wire and other indicators of intrusion into their area.  They were treacherous and untrustworthy troops.

The Brits ought to have known than handing a FOB over to the ISF in this area and at this time would have led to safe haven for Iranian-backed insurgents.  They were simply married to COIN doctrine developed in the womb of the relatively safe Northern Ireland.  But the lesson for Iraq, Afghanistan, and indeed, the balance of the world, is that COIN doctrine developed among your own people (who hold to roughly the same religious views, speak the same language, have the same cultural morays, etc.) will lead to large scale dysfunction of your troops when applied anywhere else.  The fault lies not with the enlisted man, but the British Army leadership.

British Brass Defends Basra Campaign

BY Herschel Smith
15 years, 6 months ago

The Captain’s Journal has a history on the one hand of defending the bravery of the enlisted British soldier, and on the other of criticizing the strategy that the British brass brought to the campaign in Southern Iraq. Without a doubt the British enlisted man wanted to participate in counterinsurgency in Basra, and also quite without a doubt, his chain of command effectively prevented him from doing so.

Now comes Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup who vigorously defends the British campaign, and more particularly, we note, the decisions by the military brass.

Although operation charge of the knights got off to an inauspicious start, its eventual success and subsequent developments have transformed the situation in Basra. But the operation has also attracted a degree of controversy, particularly with regard to the British role.

So I want to take this opportunity to lay to rest some of the myths that have emerged. Myths such as: the British had given up in Basra; that they’d done a deal to hand the city over to the militias; and that they failed to support the Iraqis during charge of the knights. But to do so, I need to take you back a bit. Back to the latter part of 2006, in fact. Now at that particular time, we and the United States were in a process of transition, working to transfer responsibility for security away from the coalition to the Iraqi government. But there were obstacles to this transition. And the obstacles were different in different parts of the country. The problem for the Americans in Baghdad and the surrounding areas was that the Iraqis were too busy trying to kill one another to face up to the question of how Shia and Sunni could co-exist politically. The problem for the British in the south east was that the Iraqis were too busy trying to kill us to focus on the intra-Shia political issues in Basra. These different problems required different solutions.

Thus has the Air Chief Marshal created a false picture of the British task versus the American task. First of all, the U.S. Army in Baghdad and surrounding areas was indeed targeted by both al Qaeda and radical Shi’a elements, including the Jaish al Mahdi. But more to the point, the Air Chief Marshal has conveniently ignored the fact that the U.S. Marines in Anbar were under attack twenty four hours a day, 365 days a year for a very long time. They know what it’s like to have fighters trying to kill them, but even before the U.S. Army in Baghdad, they implemented combat outposts, traditional counterinsurgency tactics, and even more advanced tactics such as sand berms, gated communities and biometrics, and the concerned citizens program along with payments for labor. More than 1000 Marines perished in Anbar as a result of the campaign, so it is disingenuous and insulting for the Air Chief Marshal to attempt to portray the British dilemma as somehow unique in history, or even the history of Iraq. Continuing:

The US decided to increase its force levels – the surge – in order to suppress Sunni-Shia violence and create space within which the political process had some chance of success. This was a key step. But the process got a helping hand from a most unexpected quarter: al Qaida in Iraq. Their appalling treatment of the Sunni tribes in the areas they dominated – such as Anbar province – led to their rejection by the local population, which then looked to the coalition for support.

It is an adulteration of the narrative to insert the feature of the tribal awakening and population’s rejection of al Qaeda without also including the months and even years of buildup to this via combat operations to prove to the population who was the stronger tribe and who could be trusted with security and protection. Again, the narrative must be complete in order to be accurate. Again continuing:

The UK made repeated attempts to deal with extremist militia violence in the south east. We planned and sought to execute numerous Special Forces operations. We also developed Operation Salamanca – an ambitious, comprehensive and hard-edged plan to confront and subdue the militias. All of these combined powerful offensive action with stabilisation and development activity. But each was, in the event, emasculated. Because we simply couldn’t get the agreement of the Iraqi government; their own internal politics made it impossible. The Iraqi government was at that stage still dependent on the political support of Muqtada al Sadr, which made decisive action against the Jaish al-Mahdi somewhat problematic for them. And there was a growing desire to assert Iraqi sovereignty, manifested by increasing restrictions on our offensive activity.

Here again the Air Chief Marshal is only telling his listeners part of the narrative. The Jaish al Mahdi and power of Moqtada al Sadr is largely a creation of the UK, which after he was in the actual custody of the 3/2 Marines in 2004, went to great lengths to ensure his release and safety by performing an emergency transport of Ali al Sistani (who was in the UK at the time undergoing medical treatment) back to Iraq to negotiate his release with the support of the UK. At that time, the JAM numbered a few hundred followers, and by the time the British were no longer effective in Basra they numbered in the thousands. Again continuing:

Interestingly, one of its best and most enduring legacies – the destruction of the hated and feared Jamiat police station, source of so much corruption and intimidation – brought down on us the wrath of the government in Baghdad. So the question was how else we could free Basra from its cycle of violence. Early in 2007 we came to the conclusion that we were going to have to do something significant to break the impasse. Something that would force the Iraqis to face up to their problems and to their responsibilities. We judged that the only way to do this was to withdraw our permanently based forces from Basra city, and to put the Iraqis in the lead there.

The “wrath of the government in Baghdad.” Maybe the U.S. Marines weren’t too concerned about the wrath of the government in Baghdad when the Iraqi officials turned on the Marines for engaging the Sunnis in the Concerned Citizens program (later called the Sons of Iraq) because the Shi’a officials in power believed the program to be an embarrassment to Iraq at the hands of the Americans who were making deals with “gangs of killers.” There were even reports of U.S. troops standing down far superior numbers of Iraqi troops along with armor, bent on doing harm to Sunni members of the Sons of Iraq, coming close to exchanging fire with the ISF. Take particular note of this incident – it means that the U.S. forces came close to a military confrontation with the ISF in the protection of the Sunni population. So much for the notion of the British enduring the “wrath of the government.”

The fact of the matter is that the soft cover, the almost invisible force projection and the low visibility, and the extremely restrictive rules of engagement aided the continual diminution of the security situation in Basra rather than stopped it. Further, the Iraqi government only dealt with the JAM when it became obvious that the UK insisted on there being one to begin with. A counterinsurgency strategy suited for Northern Ireland just doesn’t apply to Iraq, but the British found this out too late to do much in the way of counterinsurgency. Unfortunately, the Air Chief Marshal still hasn’t learned anything about the campaign.


What Basra can teach us about Counterinsurgency

The Good and Bad in Basra

More British Trouble in Basra

Continued Chaos in Basra

Calamity in Basra and British Rules of Engagement

The Rise of the JAM

What Basra can teach us about Counterinsurgency

BY Herschel Smith
15 years, 7 months ago

We have previously discussed the bravery of British troops in kinetic engagements in Afghanistan, so there is no question of either the capabilities or courage of UK Army and Marines, or the position of The Captain’s Journal concerning the same. But we have covered British operations in the past for the purpose of understanding what the population and culture can teach us about counterinsurgency. Just such a report was recently published, and it confirms our previous positions on the campaign in Basra.

“The situation in Basra is much better than before when this was a terrorised city controlled by car-loads of militiamen,” the doctor said. “The offices of these armed men were like the security offices under Saddam Hussein, not to mention the empty houses that were used to torture anyone who dared to criticise their practices.”

He praised the conduct of soldiers from the 1st Division of the Iraqi Army, the fledgling military’s best-trained unit, who took part in the Basra offensive to boost the numbers of the homegrown 14th Division.

“We noticed the fighting ability of the 1st Division. They were well equipped, had professional training and worked well with local citizens to ensure success and defy the gangsters,” Dr Muhiddeen said.

He had less of a glowing impression of the British military, which had control of security in Basra from March 2003 until December 2007, a period that saw the al-Mehdi Army militia grow in strength and influence.

“British forces did not make an impression on the people of Basra. They let the militia control the city and stayed away from events.”

Ms Ali was also unimpressed, describing the British troops as lodgers.

“As we know, people who rent stay away from trouble even if it is harming the house he has rented,” she said.

“In my personal opinion, although I have no expertise, the US forces always want to appear strong and able to succeed in any battle. They will never allow militias to ruin the reputation of the US army.

The British troops were only “lodgers” because their strategy was misinformed, and their strategy was misinformed because of senior leadership. A whole host of problems contributed to the British failure in Basra, including rules of engagement, British Army leadership, and a reflexive belief that the lessons of Northern Ireland could be applied directly to Iraq. What the U.S. Marines knew upon takeover of operations in the Anbar Province is that the population must immediately respect them, and any loss of confidence in the ability to trust their security to them or loss of respect because of a any signs of weakness, spelled the doom of the campaign.

Going forward in Afghanistan, U.S. and British military thinkers must be of a single mind. There can be no more natural partners than the U.S. and U.K. in the global war in which we are now engaged.

The British Deal with the Mahdi Militia

BY Herschel Smith
15 years, 10 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.


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

Ending Iran’s Influence Inside Iraq

BY Herschel Smith
16 years, 1 month ago

Concerning actions in Sadr City, we have noted before that the emplacement of concrete barriers was initially intended to prohibit the firing of mortar rounds into the Baghdad Green zone, and we recommended pressing the campaign forward into Sadr City proper.  There are further reports about the difficulty of completing the wall due to combat operations by the Sadrists in an attempt to prevent its construction.

U.S. troops and Shi’ite militants are clashing daily in Baghdad’s volatile Al-Sadr City as fighters tied to radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr try to stop, or at least delay, construction of a 5-kilometer barrier to keep them from firing rockets on the International Zone, the seat of the Iraqi government.

The battleground is a section of Al-Quds Street, a garbage-strewn thoroughfare that separates the Jamilla and Tharwa neighborhoods from the northern heart of the Shi’ite enclave of 2.5 million people. The wall is intended to restrict access to the southern part of Al-Sadr City, from where militants launch rocket attacks on the International Zone.

“You go high, I’ll go low — on the count of three,” a soldier from Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 68th Armor Regiment, yelled to another on a recent afternoon.

The two were returning fire on snipers from al-Sadr’s Al-Mahdi Army who were hiding in a nearby building and firing on troops constructing the barrier.

Moments later, the two let loose with long volleys of rifle fire at the top and the bottom of a building as other soldiers moved a new section of barrier into place.

Fighting a day later along the wall was so heavy that construction halted — but only for a half-hour — as soldiers poured rifle, machine-gun, and cannon fire on snipers firing from nearby alleyways and building.

The wall consists of 3.7-meter-high concrete slabs, each weighing over 5 tons. Soldiers from the 64th Brigade Support Battalion, a National Guard unit that normally transports water, fuel, and other supplies to soldiers, ferry the barriers using forklift loaders from a nearby staging area and lower them into place with a crane. Soldiers from 1/68 provide security and also help guide the slabs into place. The first slab was placed on April 19, and despite daily ambushes by gunmen, more than 1,000 now stand, meaning the wall is nearly half-completed.

“This is a mission that has to get done, to stop these thugs from firing their rockets and stuff,” says First Sergeant Conrad Gonzales, of Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 68th Armored Regiment. “Every day we get attacked, every day we’re putting in barriers. The mission has to go on, it has to be accomplished and we can’t let anyone stop us.”

But regarding Sadr City proper and pressing the campaign forward, Baghdad is bracing for more combat and preparing its citizens to leave the affected areas.

The authorities in Baghdad say they are preparing for an exodus of thousands of people from eastern parts of the city.

Fighting between government and US troops on one side, and Shia militia on the other, has intensified recently.

Two football stadiums are on stand-by to receive residents from two neighbourhoods in the Sadr City area.

The government has warned of an imminent push to clear the areas of members of the MehdiArmy, loyal to the anti-American cleric, Moqtada Sadr.

In the last seven weeks around 1,000 people have died, and more than 2,500 others have been injured, most of them civilians.

The fighting so far in Sadr City has been fierce – street to street, and house to house.

Ed Morrissey presumes much when he says of the operation that “Maliki also wants to end Iran’s influence in Iraq, which caused Iran to cut off security talks with Maliki and the US.”  If this is so, then the plan should be fairly straight forward to implement.

We have noted before that many in the Badr organization (SIIC) still receive pension paychecks from Iran, more specifically from the IRGC.  In order to defeat Iran within Iraq, Maliki could implement at least (but not limited to) the following steps.

  1. Force Badr to refuse the acceptance of any more paychecks from Iran.
  2. Fully integrate them into the Iraqi Security Forces, and more specifically, with Sunni fighters.
  3. Have the more knowledgeable members point out and target the Iranian smuggling lines by which weapons, money and Iranian intelligence assets are brought into Iraq.
  4. Have Badr attack these lines and arrest known members of the IRG and Quds (the National Council of Resistance of Iran has a list of several thousand Iranians currently undermining the stability of Iraq,  by name).  No faction in Iraq will be in a better position to target Iranian forces than Badr.  Both numbers 3 and 4 must be results based, not intent based.  If results are not achieved, then Badr fails.
  5. Have members of Badr publicly repudiate Iran and all that it stands for.

These simple actions would go a long way towards neutering the effectiveness of Iran within Iraq.  As for Basra which the Iraqi Security Forces were proudly said to “own” after the short campaign there a few weeks ago, perhaps the Sadrists should continue to be targeted, since they recently launched twenty Katyusha rockets towards the Basra airport where the British forces are still hunkered down protecting British forces (note that these rockets are the same as launched by Hezbollah against Israel in the last war – that is, the Hezbollah that is supported and armed by Iran).

Next, U.S. and Iraqi Security Forces can continue to target the Mahdi militia in Sadr City until the campaign is completed.  In other words, the campaign in Basra is no more complete than in 2004 when the Marines cleared Fallujah.  Fallujah required until 2007 to be completed.  Al Qaeda was stronger than the Mahdi militia, and so three years will not be required.  But a couple of weeks isn’t sufficient either, as twenty Katyusha rockets in Basra prove.  The campaign in Sadr City is just beginning, and proper counterinsurgency (take, hold, security, rebuild, proper governance) will most certainly take longer than weeks, and suggestions that it will be over soon do not comport with professional military doctrine.

Now.  Does Maliki really want to end Iran’s influence in Iraq?  Time will tell.  Patience.

Moderation on Basra and Sadr City

BY Herschel Smith
16 years, 1 month ago

The Captain’s Journal has complained about analysis of the Basra and Sadr City fighting that tends toward the extremes.  Effusive analysis and reporting about the recent events is neither productive nor compelling.  A recent example of sardonic analysis comes from Dr. iRack at Abu Muqawama (Editorial note: Matthew Yglesias who writes for The Atlantic addresses previous Basra opinion from Dr. iRack, and in the same post, the commenters curse The Captain’s Journal.  This brings a smile to our face.  Riddle us this.  What could be better than to draw the ire of either Yglesias or his boy-fan readers?).

Dr. iRack has detected a new narrative coming out of the Iraqi Government (and MNF-I). The story goes something like this. “Once upon a time, a brave prime minister took on the criminals trying to destroy his kingdom. He sent a ‘charge of the knights’ deep into the rogue principality of Basra to slay the minions of the evil wizard Sadr and save countless damsels in distress. After a shakey start, the knights vanquished their foes. The black-pajama-clad-ninja-JAM-gangster-flying-monkeys flew away, and life returned to the streets. The world turned from black-and-white to technocolor. Damsels felt free to let down their hair and don multi-colored robes, children frolicked and went joyously back to school, long-delayed weddings commenced, popular bards were able to share their mirth-filled tunes, and celebratory gunfire rang throughout the land. And so they all lived happily ever after.”

For an eye-witness account of this transformation which basically tells this story (minus the sarcasm), see this piece in the London Times.

There seem to be many morals to this tale:

1. The limp-wristed British were defeated in Basra, but with a wee-bit of manly American help (advisors, air support), the JAMsters were sent scurrying.

2. The ISF (especially the Iraqi army) is more capable than all those playa-haters like the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction claim, despite all the difficulties during the early phase of the Basra operation and the need to fire 1,300 deserters who refused to fight JAM.

To be fair about our analysis of the British and the recent history of Basra, The Captain’s Journal has never claimed that the British are limp-wristed.  We have always claimed that the British warrior is as good as any, but that the Colonels and Generals misled their political leadership and failed their men.  The strategy is to blame, not the quality of the British enlisted men.  Nor have we made any claims concerning the presence of the U.S. in Basra.  However, it is unlikely that Dr. iRack is pointing to our analyses, especially since he links certain articles in his post.

His analysis drips with sarcasm, so much so that it may blind him to certain truths concerning the recent fighting.  All of the prose he (and anyone else) is capable of bringing to bear on the issue doesn’t change the facts that the Marines are standing down in Anbar because the campaign is complete, and the campaigns for Basra and Sadr City are just beginning.

In Concrete Walls for Sadr City, we noted that counterinsurgency tactics were finally being brought to Sadr City.  We were fooled by appearances, and it now has become clear that the walls are a continuing testimony to the aborted efforts against the Sadrists that have plagued the campaign from the beginning.  There are no intentions to continue the operation throughout Sadr City.

American and Iraqi forces building a wall in Sadr City have no plans to besiege the east Baghdad Shiite bastion where they have been battling militiamen for weeks, a US general said on Thursday.

“Our purpose is to secure only the southern part of Sadr City, to prevent rockets being fired towards the Green Zone from the area,” Major General Jeffery Hammond, commander of US forces in Baghdad, told a news conference.

Rather than see things from the extreme end of the spectrum (victory has been achieved within a few short weeks, contra victory cannot possibly be achieved no matter what), moderation and a measured approach is best.  The Captain’s Journal has found such an analysis, crafted by Richard S. Lowry writing at OpFor.  His analysis will be cited at length.

Last Tuesday evening an Apache helicopter crew noticed three criminals loading a mortar into the trunk of their car in Sadr City. After insuring there were no civilians nearby, the American soldiers fired a Hellfire missile which obliterated the front end of the vehicle. The criminals rushed to the mangled auto and grabbed the mortar, tossed it into a second vehicle and sped away.

Events like these have become commonplace as neither American nor Iraqi Security Forces have been patrolling the streets of Sadr City. Even though Muqtada al Sadr has declared a cease-fire, the Sadr City District has been a very dangerous place for Coalition forces. The lower-class neighborhoods of eastern Baghdad (Sadr City) continue to remain an Al Sadr stronghold. So much so, that the area has been cordoned and Iraqi and Coalition forces do not venture into the majority of the eastern Baghdad slums. The area is laced with IEDs and armed criminal elements that will stand and fight, if confronted. So, the majority of the Coalition’s security is facing inward and the city streets are patrolled from the sky. Contrary to some reports, Sadr City is not under siege. There are control points to stem the influx of illegal weapons, but people are free to come and go as they please.

Rest assured, Sadr City is under constant surveillance. High above the attacking Apache, an Unmanned Arial Vehicle (UAV) circled the district. Air Force controllers watched the Apache attack and the enemy speed away in their streaming video broadcast from the drone. They stalked the vehicle as it sped through the streets like a hawk circling its prey. When the thugs finally stopped in an empty field, another Hellfire screamed out of the evening sky. This time both criminals were killed and the vehicle and mortar were destroyed.

There may not be a cop on every corner in Sadr City, but the ISF and American Forces can see what is going on and they can swiftly react to acts of aggression. For some time now, there has been a tense stalemate in Sadr City. Al Sadr’s radical followers continue to conduct violent acts in the form of mortar and rocket attacks, IED attacks on Coalition and Iraqi Security forces, and outright skirmishes with the authorities. More often than not, the fighters are rounded up or killed, but they continue to harass the establishment.

All the while, the vast majority of the civilian population is trying to live a peaceful life amid this small groups’ struggle for power and influence. Security is slowly returning to the other districts of Baghdad and as the streets become safer, overall life is improving for the every-day Iraqi. The streets are being cleaned up, markets, parks and schools are open and there is a glimmer of hope for the future. Bread winners are returning to work and children are returning to school.

But Muqtada and his followers do not want the people of Sadr City to gain hope for their future. Their power comes from the downtrodden, from the poor, from the disadvantaged. They want to have continued chaos in Sadr City, Baghdad and Iraq. Stability is their enemy. So, Sadr’s supporters roam the streets in armed gangs, lob mortar rounds at American facilities, plant IEDs and rocket the International Zone. Recently, after British troops withdrew from the streets of Basra, Sadrist thugs took over Iraq’s second largest city.

Last month, the Iraqi government moved to restore law and order in Basra. Until then, Muqtada al Sadr and his radical followers enjoyed a shaky stalemate with the Coalition forces and the government in Baghdad. Al Sadr, who has been hiding in Iran, has issued a fatwa declaring a cease-fire with the Multi-National Forces in Iraq. He has been literally sitting on the sidelines, waiting for American forces to go home. But, his Mahdi army has seized every opportunity to make trouble. Some – many – of Muqtada Al Sadr’s followers have violated the cease-fire and have quickly been killed or captured.

When the ISF moved to retake Basra, Sadrist thugs throughout the country counterattacked from Basra to Nasiriyah to Sadr City. Last week, Iranian-made 107mm rockets were hurled across the Tigris River into the International Zone from the most southern reaches of Sadr City. Iraqi Security Forces quickly moved into that area with coalition support. They have built a temporary barrier that separates the southern edge of the district from the rest of Sadr City. The rocket teams that have not been killed have been forced out of effective range to be able to hit the International Zone. While the ISF are in the lead, there is a considerable Coalition force supporting the Iraqis, particularly in the air.

With support of the Coalition, Iraqi Security Forces have had great success in neutralizing, killing and destroying the mortar and rocket teams who were firing from within Sadr City. “We have taken out literally dozens of those teams” Rear Admiral Greg Smith, Director of Communications for the Multi-National Force – Iraq, added that some of these criminals were, “in the process of setting up to fire.” These criminals were lobbing rockets across the Tigris River, attempting to hit government and Coalition targets in the International Zone. Most of the rockets fell short, killing and injuring innocent Iraqi civilians.

The burned out vehicles we are seeing in the streets on the nightly news belong to rocket and mortar teams, victims of precision weapons launched from Unmanned Arial Vehicles (UAVs) or Apache helicopters. The enemy cannot escape the watchful eyes of coalition forces. “What you have is a very persistent coverage from the air by US forces.” Smith went on to say, “We spot ‘em, we track ‘em and we kill ‘em.”

Still, the levels of violence today are higher than they were before Easter Sunday. There was a serious peak of violence after the Iraqi government moved to take back the streets of Basra. The number of incidents has recently decreased, but is still elevated in nearly every category.

What is Next?

The next few weeks will be crucial to bringing the citizens of Sadr City into the fold. Today, Muqtada al Sadr has a significant following within the slums of the city named after his martyred father. But, his influence is waning. Extremists want him dead and moderates are considering reconciliation. The Iraq government will be pumping $150,000,000 into the southern extremities of Sadr City. The money will be used to revitalize the areas that are under government control. If the moderates see that the government is making an effort to help the people of Sadr City, they may be inclined to denounce the violent elements that control their neighborhoods.

Even then, the future of the citizens of Eastern Baghdad, and most of southern Iraq, rests in the hands of Muqtada al Sadr and the violent factions within his following. If the government of Iraq can provide some political accommodations to the Sadrists, if Al Sadr can be convinced that he can maintain his power base peacefully, if the extreme shi’a can reconcile with the moderate shi’a, there might be a chance of a peaceful outcome in Sadr City.

Let us all hope that sane minds prevail because if they don’t, a military operation will be needed to clear Sadr City, ala Najaf, Fallujah and Basra. Muqtada Al Sadr needs to realize that we can do this the easy way or the hard way, but the Coalition and Iraqi Security Forces will not be deterred from bringing peace and stability to all the people of Iraq, including those in Sadr City.

This is careful reporting, and readers should make OpFor a daily stop.  The Basra campaign was aborted.  More needs to be done.  Sadr City is just beginning.  The Sadrists are the most prolific provider of welfare funds in Iraq.  Their power springs from the impoverished, and they won’t slink away into the night without a fight.  The SIIC needs to be forced to demonstrate their loyalties.  The best way to do this is to place them at the point in targeting Iranian elements within Iraq.  They, more than any other group, would be in a position to identify Quds operators, IRG fighters, Iranian weapons caches, Iranian training camps for insurgents, and Iranian smuggling lines and monies.  If they will not do this, then their loyalties are proven to be with Iran rather than Iraq.  They cannot be considered a legitimate part of the Iraqi government.

The campaign involving the Sadrists and SIIC –  it isn’t lost, and it hasn’t been won.  The campaign to bring Iraqi law and order to their encampments is just beginning.  As we have said about every engagement, patience and force projection are the two most critical elements to success.

Basra Confusion

BY Herschel Smith
16 years, 1 month ago

One commenter wants The Captain’s Journal to update the Basra analysis because the Iraqi Army now “owns Basra.”  Indeed.  We do not engage in talking points, nor do we jump quickly on analysis results.  Our commentary and analysis is usually careful and measured.  General Petraeus is careful and measured too, and he feels that the campaign for Basra will last months.  So let’s survey a few analysts on the current state of affairs on Basra and the Shi’a situation.  Let’s begin with Nibras Kazimi.

Anonymous British commanders had told the UK’s Telegraph a couple of days ago that the Iraqi Army’s military operation in Basra was an “unmitigated disaster” and that the Iraqi commander leading it, General Mohan al-Freiji, is a “dangerous lunatic”.

It’s funny how the story never seems to get around to the point that the Iraqi Army managed to achieve in Basra what the British never could, namely, to control the city and smash the organized crime cartels.

I mean, just the image of the Sadrists being evicted from their main office in Basra two days ago should have been enough to clue-in some observers out there as to who ended up winning in Basra, despite the hasty forecasts of the media and their associated go-to ‘experts’.

But I guess it isn’t, since most reporters are still swooning over Muqtada al-Sadr’s latest threat of an “all out war” and are still peddling discredited gossip that overstates Iran’s influence in Iraqi affairs.

Got that?  Kazimi knows more than Army intelligence in Iraq, enough to know that talk about Iranian influence is overblown and discredited gossip.  Perhaps someone ought to have told Petraeus before his testimony to congress.  Continuing with Kazimi:

… some in Maliki’s circle has come to believe this rumor: British intelligence deliberately allowed Basra to turn into a hellhole so that this port city would never rival Dubai, whose princes bankroll British intelligence operations across the Middle East. Hey it’s just a rumor, right? But it get fishier when it’s synced-up with intelligence reports reaching Maliki’s office that allege that the Maktoum royals of Dubai have been funding some of Basra’s militias.

Oh my.  The Captain’s Journal fears that Kazimi might have taken a blow to the head.  Finally, Kazimi invokes a hate-relationship he has to ask for Arabic translators.

In other news, I’d like some help in figuring this out: are any of these following experts fluent in Arabic, and by fluent I don’t mean ‘Marc Lynch fluent’ but rather actually fluent: Bruce Hoffman, Kenneth M. Pollock, Juan Cole, Ira M. Lapidus, and Reuel M. Gerecht.

We don’t understand this obsession with hatred of Marc Lynch.  But since he has taken off on him again and ventured outside the constraints of the subject, we’ll turn our attention to other analysts.

Mostafa Zein with Dar Al-Hayat opines on al-Hakim’s party, the real winner in all of this, saying:

The Council’s spokesperson, Ali al-Adib, considers that the culture of the entire region is Islamic, written in Arabic. In other words, al-Adibdenies the existence of Arab culture, except in the framework of Islamic culture. When he talks about this culture, we understand that he only means its inherited sectarian component. Thus, ties with Iran go beyond politics, in terms of interest, and are deeply cultural and historical as they bring both sides together.

The danger of such remarks is that they dwarf culture down to the sectarian perception. It is as dangerous as the perception held by the “jihadists,” namely that their totalitarian type of thought is universal. Both sides cast out from paradise anyone who opposes them. Both sides have a unilateralist view of culture. They do not take into consideration the fact that any type of thought, whether or not religious, in any language, is based in its historicaland cultural framework, and can have an impact on the environment in which it develops and by which it is influenced … What concerns us here is that while he builds his relationship with Iran on a sectarian basis, he sees the interest of Iraq only from this angle, Iran sees this relationship only from the angle of guaranteeing its interests as a state with a history dating back to pre-Islam and its sects. Perhaps the most recent confrontation in Basra between the government and the Sadrists is the best example to support this premise.

Tehran sided with Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and al-Hakim against al-Sadr. Iran had bet on both sides for a number of reasons. The most important of these reasons is that al-Hakim was and remains the most enthusiastic supporter of federalism. He did not object to the constitution that sets out a federal identity for Iraq, made up of sects and ethnicities – “The Arabs (in Iraq) are a part of the Arab Nation”. On the other hand, al-Sadr opposed the constitution, federalism and the division of the country’s wealth, and this naturally is not in Iran’s interest.

Iran’s support for al-Hakim and Sadr, prior to and after the war, eventually had to reach the point of making preferences, especially at such a critical period. The upcoming provincial council elections will determine the future of Southern Iraq and the relationship of the periphery to the central authority. It is in Iran’s interest for al-Hakim to wield influence in this region which borders Iran.

Got that?  Iran is deeply involved in Iraq, and al-Hakim is the best friend of Iran due to his party’s view of federalism inside Iraq.  Federalism, implies Zein, is deeply beneficial to Iran because of the weak state and strong sectarian ties it would engender.  So let’s turn to another Middle East analyst, Daniel Graeber who published a commentary with UPI.

“At some point,” White adds, “Maliki and Sadr had a falling out, mainly because of U.S. pressure on Maliki to distance himself and his government from this brash, ambitious and anti-American cleric and his violent Mahdi Army and U.S. pressure on Sadr rival Abdul Aziz al-Hakim to support Maliki in order to supplant Sadr.”

Hakim began to worry about the Sadrist influence in the Shiite south as most of Sadr’s group fled to Basra shortly after the U.S. troop surge. Hakim saw his influence in the Maliki government as an opportunity to take more control over Basra and its key oil reserves. In March U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney met with Hakim for several hours outside of the Green Zone. Hakim emerged saying he saw eye to eye with Cheney on security issues.

The day after Cheney’s visit with Hakim, a reconciliation conference in Baghdad failed from the start as Sadrist representatives stormed out of the meeting over complaints of marginalization in Parliament. The following day, March 19, under intense U.S. pressure, the three-member presidency council approved a slate of laws, including one that paved the way for October provincial elections, after Vice President Adel Abdul-Mahdi of SIIC lifted his objection.

As Cheney left Baghdad for Washington, Maliki left for Basra to oversee security operations. Sadr loyalists at this point held many of the key positions in the south because of dissatisfaction with Hakim loyalists there. Maliki decided it was time to show the world that Iraqi security forces could lead an assault without the help of the U.S. military and took on the militias in Basra.

A June 2007 report by the International Crisis Group describes Basra as the defacto economic capital of Iraq because of its port access and oil reserves. The SIIC wanted to control Basra from Baghdad, while the Sadrists were happy to control things from the streets. Hakim was not on good terms with the Sadrists, accusing the group of assassinating SIIC governors in August 2007 and his own brother, Ayatollah Bakr al-Hakim, in 2003. The conflict in Basra in late March 2008 put Hakim and Maliki against Sadr, and the political arena became a bloody battle for control.

Maliki understands his government is rife with corruption and suffers from incompetence, so he sees his battle with Sadr as an opportunity to boost legitimacy in Baghdad.

“Maliki might have wanted to demonstrate that he could act on his own without (the U.S. military) in a show of strength. If so, it backfired,” White said.

The conflict in Basra was largely a political move, setting the stage for the October elections. Meanwhile, Iran is seeing the unraveling of the Shiite blocs in Iraq, and with no clear winner coming out of Basra, Tehran is backing every horse in the race. Despite a variety of political conflicts underneath the surface of the Basra conflict, it is the upcoming provincial elections that dominate the Shiite row.

With Maliki limping back to Baghdad, his perception that he could emerge as an able leader dissolved. It appears he is at the mercy of Tehran and, closer to home, the SIIC and Hakim. Beyond that, both leaders must answer to Iran before they answer to the United States.

Got that? Maliki is limping back to Baghdad at the mercy of Tehran, while the U.S. is not the strongest force in the region by any assessment.

Next, we observe that Tigerhawk declares, following a New York Times report, that the battle is over and has been wonEd Morrissey waxes positive about Basra and the return of the Sunnis to the government, connecting the two ideas in his post.  Mohammed Fadhil says that the war is far from being over, while he had previously said:

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.

That should be enough.  Let’s summarize.  Iran is empowered now more than ever, or not, depending upon which analysis you believe.  Iraqi troops behaved just swimmingly, or not, depending upon which analysis you believe.  It’s completely over, done with and completed, or not, depending upon which analysis you believe.

The Captain’s Journal knows this.  In conventional warfare, decisive battles can be fought in several days or weeks that set the pace for a campaign and literally determine its outcome.  In counterinsurgency, it’s just not that way.  To understand this point, we need to go no further than Fallujah.  One could have claimed that victory was achieved – it was done, completed and finished on schedule in late 2004 after the second battle of Fallujah.  Of course, this claim would have been a lie, even if unintentional.

Fallujah required literally three more years of conflict, finally ending with Operation Alljah with the 2/6 Marines in 2007.  This fact is not a vociferous call for depression or negative press or charges of anti-war bias, even though usually reflexively taken that way by the political right.  Quite the contrary.  It is a call to patience, despite the felt need for good news now.  Good news may not be as timely as we would like in COIN, but it is almost always connected to commitment.

**** UPDATE ****

Nibras Kazimi kindly contacted us and corrected an error: “The translated Al-Hayat article you cite is mistaken: Ali al-Adib is a member of the Da’awa Party, and not of Al-Hakim’s Supreme Council. Al-Zein is a Lebanese writer.”

The Good and Bad in Basra

BY Herschel Smith
16 years, 2 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.

Thoughts on the Fighting in Basra

BY Herschel Smith
16 years, 2 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.

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