Slain US reporters comments on Basra situation

Discussion in 'Current Affairs, News and Analysis' started by Cootie1, Aug 6, 2005.

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  1. Any reaction to this op-ed by Steven Vincent, a freelance journalist kidnapped and killed in Basra a few days ago. Are UK forces allowing Shiite militias and political parties to have the run of the city? Thought that I'd seek some feedback from British servicemen on this.

    The original link:

    Steven Vincent's Blog:

    The full text of the New York Times op-ed:

    Switched Off in Basra

    Published: July 31, 2005
    Basra, Iraq

    THE British call it being "switched on" - a state of high morale and readiness, similar to what Americans think of as "gung ho" attitude. During the 10 days I recently spent embedded with the British-led multinational force in this southern Iraqi city, I met many switched-on soldiers involved in what the British call "security sector reform." An effort to maintain peace while training Iraqis to handle their own policing and security, security sector reform is fundamental to the British-American exit strategy. As one British officer put it, "The sooner the locals assume their own security, the sooner we go home."

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    M.K. Perker

    Forum: Op-Ed Contributors
    From this perspective, the strategy appears successful. Particularly in terms of the city police officers, who are proving adept at the close-order drills, marksmanship and proper arrest techniques being drilled into them by their foreign instructors. In addition, police salaries are up, the officers have shiny new patrol cars, and many sport snazzy new uniforms. Better yet, many of these new Iraqi officers seem switched-on themselves. "We want to serve our country" is a repeated refrain.

    From another view, however, security sector reform is failing the very people it is intended to serve: average Iraqis who simply want to go about their lives. As has been widely reported of late, Basran politics (and everyday life) is increasingly coming under the control of Shiite religious groups, from the relatively mainstream Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq to the bellicose followers of the rebel cleric Moktada al-Sadr. Recruited from the same population of undereducated, underemployed men who swell these organizations' ranks, many of Basra's rank-and-file police officers maintain dual loyalties to mosque and state.

    In May, the city's police chief told a British newspaper that half of his 7,000-man force was affiliated with religious parties. This may have been an optimistic estimate: one young Iraqi officer told me that "75 percent of the policemen I know are with Moktada al-Sadr - he is a great man." And unfortunately, the British seem unable or unwilling to do anything about it.

    The fact that the British are in effect strengthening the hand of Shiite organizations is not lost on Basra's residents.

    "No one trusts the police," one Iraqi journalist told me. "If our new ayatollahs snap their fingers, thousands of police will jump." Mufeed al-Mushashaee, the leader of a liberal political organization called the Shabanea Rebellion, told me that he felt that "the entire force should be dissolved and replaced with people educated in human rights and democracy."

    Unfortunately, this is precisely what the British aren't doing. Fearing to appear like colonial occupiers, they avoid any hint of ideological indoctrination: in my time with them, not once did I see an instructor explain such basics of democracy as the politically neutral role of the police in a civil society. Nor did I see anyone question the alarming number of religious posters on the walls of Basran police stations. When I asked British troops if the security sector reform strategy included measures to encourage cadets to identify with the national government rather than their neighborhood mosque, I received polite shrugs: not our job, mate.

    The results are apparent. At the city's university, for example, self-appointed monitors patrol the campuses, ensuring that women's attire and makeup are properly Islamic. "I'd like to throw them off the grounds, but who will do it?" a university administrator asked me. "Most of our police belong to the same religious parties as the monitors."

    Similarly, the director of Basra's maternity hospital, Mohammad Nasir, told me that he frequently catches staff members pilfering equipment to sell to private hospitals, but hesitates to call the police: "How do I know what religious party they are affiliated with, and what their political connection is to the thieves?"

    It is particularly troubling that sectarian tensions are increasing in Basra, which has long been held up as the brightest spot of the liberated Iraq. "Are the police being used for political purposes?" asked Jamal Khazal Makki, the head of the Basra branch of the Sunni-dominated Islamic Party. "They arrest people and hold them in custody, even though the courts order them released. Meanwhile, the police rarely detain anyone who belongs to a Shiite religious party."

    An Iraqi police lieutenant, who for obvious reasons asked to remain anonymous, confirmed to me the widespread rumors that a few police officers are perpetrating many of the hundreds of assassinations - mostly of former Baath Party members - that take place in Basra each month. He told me that there is even a sort of "death car": a white Toyota Mark II that glides through the city streets, carrying off-duty police officers in the pay of extremist religious groups to their next assignment.

    Meanwhile, the British stand above the growing turmoil, refusing to challenge the Islamists' claim on the hearts and minds of police officers. This detachment angers many Basrans. "The British know what's happening but they are asleep, pretending they can simply establish security and leave behind democracy," said the police lieutenant who had told me of the assassinations. "Before such a government takes root here, we must experience a transformation of our minds."

    In other words, real security reform requires psychological as well as physical training. Unless the British include in their security sector reform strategy some basic lessons in democratic principles, Basra risks falling further under the sway of Islamic extremists and their Western-trained police enforcers.

    Steven Vincent, the author of "In the Red Zone: A Journey Into the Soul of Iraq," is writing a book about Basra.
  2. By all accounts Steven Vincent was a highly regarded journalist [a rarity no doubt]. He will be greatly missed. RIP.
  3. A very interesting and pertinent article that exposes the current faultlines in Coalition policy in Iraq.

    Arguably Iraq has never been a functional nation state - it was nailed together from some left over bits of the map by outsiders then kept together by a murderous dictator. It is foolish to assume that the primary loyalty of the inhabitants is to the Iraqi state as currently constituted. However, that is exactly what the US has done and their policy is predicated on that assumption. Hence when the locals reject what the US offers they are automatically wrong. At times it looks as if the US has freed Iraqis to choose their own path - as long as they choose to be a mirror of the US.

    We, on the other hand, seem to be letting them get on with whatever they want as, after all, we invaded so they could be free to make their own decisions. The plus side is that the locals leave us alone and only the imported nutters take a crack at us. The negative side is that the locals are busy pushing back the clock to the Middle Ages and the advances made under Saddam (women's rights etc) are disappearing.

    Pragmatically though this method is far more likely to result in stable local institutions that will allow is to bug out. The fact that the institutions will have far more in common with Iran than the US may be a problem, but the alternative is to impose an alternative by force. Given that the current largely Sunni insurgency is stretching the US provoking the far more numerous Shia to kick off in the same way would be foolish, to say the least. It worries me that political commentators in the US don't seem to factor this into their thinking.

    The calls in the article for "ideological indoctrination" are also deeply worrying to me - the arrogance and ignorance behind such statements is quite breathtaking. If the US truly thinks that with "education" the locals will see the folly of their ways and enthusiastically choose to embrace US values and democratic institutions they are doomed to failure. It took hundreds of years for the UK to move from a feudal setup to Magna Carta to Parliament as we know it today - with a civil war along the way. Imposing such change on Iraq cannot be a quick process - and assumes the locals will let us tell them what to do.
  4. Another problem - besides Iran stoking up Shia Islamic fervour - is that the bulk of Iraq's educated professionals of all ethnic groups are currently living overseas. With the country lacking virtually any moderate informed influence, the uneducated, poor and xenophobic locals are easy to radicalise.

    Forget "indoctrination" - the allied PInfo effort has so far been a dismal amateurish failure - the easiest way to transform Iraq would be to give each Iraqi family a free holiday in Disneyland. I am not joking. Experience of post-Glasnost Russia showed that corrupt politicians/criminals found it easy to seize control of the country's assets and infrastructure because the population remained sunk in apathy due to ignorance that any other system was possible. Now that increasing numbers of Russians have travelled abroad, the population have become far aspirational and international in their outlook.
  5. Article in Telegraph over the weekend suggested he was targetted as he had promised to marry his Iraqi interpreter, so that she could go and live in Spamland. This was the interpreter who was injured when he was killed.

    Shame he was killed, but It does seem that he was taking a simplistic view of things. Why he thought the British Squaddies should be indoctrinating the locals with political theory is a mystery to me - even if it is working well in Baghdad & elsewhere.

    Assistance sought to remove tongue, which has become firmly lodged in cheek.
  6. I don't think it was exactly that, he was married. More like the fact that he was working with an unmarried woman and travelling around with her, these ignorant medieval repressed bigoted thugs can't stand that kind of thing. I agree with him that despite all our talk of how much better we are than the US in fact our laissez faire policy has protected (partly) us at the expense of the locals' civil/human rights. On the other hand of course as has been pointed out we can't create a mirror image of ourselves in a few months. So what's the answer? I'm afraid I don't know but memo to government: Before attacking other peoples' countries have a serious think about the likely consequences (See also Kosovo, in which we ended up backing a Muslim criminal/terrorist group and creating an ethnically cleansed hotbed of tension and crime). Perhaps the lesson is only go to war when it's actually in your national interest, callous perhaps but probably better for everyone in the long term. PS Sorry if I've repeated myself from previous postings
  7. Married eh ? - the investigators don't seem to have allowed for that in Telegraph article.

    Amen to the bit about going in without a post-war plan. Daresay it's been covered elsewhere, but particularly puzzling given the 18month lead-up to war.
  8. We did have a post-war plan - our Dear Leader Mr Blair did whatever President Bush told him to. The US formulated their post-war plans with a methodology I have observed my children using:

    Stage 1: State your wishes;
    Stage 2: Ignore reality and state that what you want to happen will happen:
    Stage 3: Listen only to points of view that support you, then reward same;
    Stage 4: When anyone disagrees place hands over ears and run round shouting "La la la I can't hear you" then sack them or accuse them of treason.

    The cynic in me says that any competent post-war planning would have revealed that things were going to get ugly quickly and that there was very little chance of achieving an acceptable end-state. Remind me why we did it again ? WMDs or something ?
  9. Something I don't understand OOTS.

    If the post-war situation, could be accurately predicted in advance by Arrse's motley crew :) , then why didn't the men paid hundreds of thousands of Dollars to make these decisions, spot the same potential pitfalls. Not a dig at the American Forces here, as some of you said the same.

    As I have pointed out before, briefings from CENTMIL in the early post-invasion days, showed graphically, that American soldiers right down to basic grunt, knew exactly what was needed and set about hearts and minds ops like only a big hearted Spam can. There was some real and justified pride in unit reports about getting power on, building rudimentary sports facilites, getting schools re-opened and interacting with the locals. So what went wrong?
  10. I know better minds than mine have pondered this but one of the main ones (with hindsight) was the excessive zeal in disbanding the army, police and all the ba'ath apparatus of government. i believe that has since been generally acknowledged as a mistake. I also think there was an over optimistic view of the coalition being perceived as heroes when we got there and an underestimate of potential insurgency. Also over optimistic expectations on the part of the population, partly encouraged by us but also their desire to expect someone else to make things better for them rather than making it happen themselves and then blaming others when it doesn't happen. Seems to be a perennial arab problem, hence their part of the world moving backward instead of forward but of course when we invade a country we take responsibility for it. I don't claim any great visionary skills this is all with 20/20 hindsight like everyone else. Some of it should have been foreseen or at least contingency planned for
  11. Most of the problems were foreseen by US planners - who were overridden by the politicians. Said politicians based their actions on unrealistic assumptions and over-reliance on the nonsense spouted by Iraqi exiles.

    Just look at the effect Rumsfeld had on troop numbers for instance. The lack of troops meant that security could not be provided for the locals post invasion, leading to all sorts of problems. The troops deployed were not trained or equipped for peace-keeping which further alienated the locals - Fallujah started when a bunch of US troops lost the plot and fired into a noisy but unarmed crowd demonstrating against the occupation of the local school by the US Army. But because the party line was that Iraqis would welcome US troops with open arms throwing flowers such preparation never happened. Another problem was that the US troops were initially fairly clueless about how to make friends and influence people in a very different culture - what works in middle America can get you into serious trouble in Iraq.

    Then we have those morons in the CPA who for ideological reasons thought that making 400,000 armed men unemployed was a good idea. And that it made more sense to pay foreign companies to fix Iraqi infrastructure with foreign workers while the engineers who built the facilities sit at home out of work. Oh, and shutting off a huge part of Baghdad to create a palace for foreigners.

    Then there's the belief that Iraq was a viable nation state in the absence of a dictator to hold the disparate elements together, the fiction that the locals want a US style democracy - I mean everyone does, right ?
  12. After the first Gulf War we could have marched into Baghdad with a band playing, but politically there was no will to do so. I find it incredible that this time around we dismantled the Iraqi army and police and then tried to rebuild from scratch. It would have been far better to have left them as intact as possible and then weeded out the committed Baathists.

    I bet nobody has ever thought of that before :roll:
  13. I think we left Iraq intact during GW1 for a number of reasons:

    President Bush the elder had his head screwed on, recognised that Iraq was a mess held together by Saddam and Saddam alone and decided he didn't want to be anywhere near that mess when it fell apart.

    Iraq's neighbours who joined the Coalition didn't want Iraq to fall apart as it would create problems for them - hence support for freeing Kuwait was conditional on not toppling Saddam and causing Iraq to disintegrate.

    Iran would welcome Saddam's fall and benefit thereby.

    Iraq had large stocks of chemical weapons in 1991 and while they would not have used them to defend Kuwait they would have used them to defend the regime.
  14. The unstated secret here is that anything that smacks of democracy will never take off in Iraq. The law of the tribes will never be compromised and things will continue as in Saddam's time. Same shyt but different colour. Intent of Brits in their area is same as many other overseas stations where we have pulled out after aggro. Do whatever is necessary to get one set of crooks ready to take over and then get out as quick as possible. What happens after we have gone is no ones concern. Cf Aden, Cyprus, Kenya, Suez Canal Zone as military things and Rhodesia and others in that continent as civil things