WashPost - As British Leave, Basra Deteriorates

#1
A wider political context to the 'Welcome to Basra' thread:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/08/06/AR2007080601401.html?hpid=topnews
As British Leave, Basra Deteriorates
Violence Rises in Shiite City Once Called a Success Story

By Karen DeYoung and Thomas E. Ricks
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, August 7, 2007; A01


As British forces pull back from Basra in southern Iraq, Shiite militias there have escalated a violent battle against each other for political supremacy and control over oil resources, deepening concerns among some U.S. officials in Baghdad that elements of Iraq's Shiite-dominated national government will turn on one another once U.S. troops begin to draw down.

Three major Shiite political groups are locked in a bloody conflict that has left the city in the hands of militias and criminal gangs, whose control extends to municipal offices and neighborhood streets. The city is plagued by "the systematic misuse of official institutions, political assassinations, tribal vendettas, neighborhood vigilantism and enforcement of social mores, together with the rise of criminal mafias that increasingly intermingle with political actors," a recent report by the International Crisis Group said.

After Saddam Hussein was overthrown in April 2003, British forces took control of the region, and the cosmopolitan port city of Basra thrived with trade, arts and universities. As recently as February, Vice President Cheney hailed Basra as a part of Iraq "where things are going pretty well."

But "it's hard now to paint Basra as a success story," said a senior U.S. official in Baghdad with long experience in the south. Instead, it has become a different model, one that U.S. officials with experience in the region are concerned will be replicated throughout the Iraqi Shiite homeland from Baghdad to the Persian Gulf. A recent series of war games commissioned by the Pentagon also warned of civil war among Shiites after a reduction in U.S. forces.

For the past four years, the administration's narrative of the Iraq war has centered on al-Qaeda, Iran and the sectarian violence they have promoted. But in the homogenous south -- where there are virtually no U.S. troops or al-Qaeda fighters, few Sunnis, and by most accounts limited influence by Iran -- Shiite militias fight one another as well as British troops. A British strategy launched last fall to reclaim Basra neighborhoods from violent actors -- similar to the current U.S. strategy in Baghdad -- brought no lasting success.

"The British have basically been defeated in the south," a senior U.S. intelligence official said recently in Baghdad. They are abandoning their former headquarters at Basra Palace, where a recent official visitor from London described them as "surrounded like cowboys and Indians" by militia fighters. An airport base outside the city, where a regional U.S. Embassy office and Britain's remaining 5,500 troops are barricaded behind building-high sandbags, has been attacked with mortars or rockets nearly 600 times over the past four months.

Britain sent about 40,000 troops to Iraq -- the second-largest contingent, after that of the United States, at the time of the March 2003 invasion -- and focused its efforts on the south. With few problems from outside terrorists or sectarian violence, the British began withdrawing, and by early 2005 only 9,000 troops remained. British Prime Minister Tony Blair announced further drawdowns early this year before leaving office.

The administration has been reluctant to publicly criticize the British withdrawal. But a British defense expert serving as a consultant in Baghdad acknowledged in an e-mail that the United States "has been very concerned for some time now about a) the lawless situation in Basra and b) the political and military impact of the British pullback." The expert added that this "has been expressed at the highest levels" by the U.S. government to British authorities.

The government of new Prime Minister Gordon Brown has pointed to the current relative calm in three of the region's four provinces -- barring Basra -- as evidence of success. According to one British official, Brown told President Bush when they met last week at Camp David that Britain hopes to turn Basra over to Iraqi control in the next few months. Although a further drawdown of its forces is likely, Britain will coordinate its remaining presence with Washington after an assessment in September by Gen. David H. Petraeus, the U.S. commander in Iraq.

As it prepares to take control of Basra, the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has dispatched new generals to head the army and police forces there. But the warring militias are part of factions in the government itself, including radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr -- whose Mahdi Army is believed responsible for most of the recent attacks on the airport compound -- as well as the Fadhila, or Islamic Virtue Party, and the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, the country's largest Shiite party.

In March, Fadhila pulled out of Maliki's ruling alliance of Shiite parties in Baghdad after it lost control of the petroleum ministry to the Supreme Council. Last week, under pressure from the council, Maliki fired the Fadhila governor of Basra. Fadhila has refused to relinquish power over the governate or over Basra's lucrative oil refineries, calling the Maliki government "the new Baath" -- a reference to Hussein's Sunni-led political party -- and appealed the dismissal to Iraq's constitutional court.

Jockeying for political power in Baghdad has long since translated into shooting battles in Basra. The militias have shifted alliances with one another, as well as with the British and with Iran as they fight for control of neighborhoods and resources. With the escalation of street battles and assassinations, much of the population is confined to homes and is fearful of Islamic rules imposed by militias.

Although neighbor Iran's presence is pervasive -- with cultural influence, humanitarian aid, arms and money -- U.S. officials and outside experts think that the Iraqi parties are using Iran more than vice versa. Iraqis in the south have long memories of the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s, one U.S. official said, and when a southern Shiite "wants to tar someone, they call them an Iranian." He said the United States is "always very concerned about Iranian influence, as well we should be, but there is a difference between influence and control. It would be very difficult for the Iranians to establish control."

The ICG study described Iran, Britain and the United States as equally confused about what is happening in Basra. During a recent visit there, the U.S. official said, he was unable to meet with any local Iraqis outside the airport base or to travel beyond the secured route between the base and the palace. About 200 Americans are in and around the city, including those assigned to the embassy office, some civilian support personnel and contract security guards.

Basra's "security nightmare" has already had devastating effects on Iraq's economy, said Juan Cole, a Middle East specialist at the University of Michigan. Home to two-thirds of Iraq's oil resources, Basra is the country's sole dependable outlet for exporting oil, with a capacity of 1.8 million barrels a day. Much of Basra's violence is "over who gets what cut from Iraq's economic resources," a U.S. Army strategist in Iraq said.

Militias and criminal gangs are financed in part by stolen oil smuggled outside the country, even as Iraq lacks enough energy to provide electricity to many of its people. Both the oil industry and the port facilities -- providing Iraq's only maritime access -- have made Basra "a significant prize for local political actors," the ICG said.

The current U.S. security operation to "clear, hold and build" in Baghdad and its surroundings is almost a replica of Operation Sinbad, which British and Iraqi forces conducted in Basra from September 2006 to March of this year with a mission of "clear, hold and civil reconstruction." Although Operation Sinbad initially succeeded in lowering crime and political assassinations, attacks rose in the spring and British forces withdrew into their compounds.

In the early years of Iraq's occupation, British officials often disdained the U.S. use of armored patrols and heavily protected troops. The British approach of lightly armed foot patrols -- copied from counterinsurgency operations in Northern Ireland -- sought to avoid antagonizing the local population and encourage cooperation. A 2005 report by the defense committee of the House of Commons commended the British army's performance and urged the Ministry of Defense to "use its influence" to get the Americans to take a less aggressive approach.

In a recent BBC interview, Air Chief Marshal Jock Stirrup, chief of the British defense staff, insisted that Basra has been a success. But he acknowledged that judgment depended on "what your interpretation of the mission was in the first place," adding: "I'm afraid people had, in many instances, unrealistic aspirations."

The mission, he said, was simply to "get the place and the people to a state where Iraqis could run this part of the country, if they chose to."
 

the_boy_syrup

LE
Book Reviewer
#2
The British have basically been defeated in the south," a senior U.S. intelligence official said recently in Baghdad

Dosen't take long for the fingers to be pointed does it?
Is this the excuses starting?
We could have held Iraq if it qasn't for the Brits
I think basically the septics will be defeated elsewhere to
The minute you hand over to the Iraqies it all goes Pete Tong so what will the US do?
Once they start handing over and pulling back they will be in the exact same position or are they staying there forever?
 
#3
Ask Ljonesy, he has an answer for everything and is quite adept at Brit bashing especially as the USofA are so good at everything.
 
#4
the_boy_syrup said:
The British have basically been defeated in the south," a senior U.S. intelligence official said recently in Baghdad

Dosen't take long for the fingers to be pointed does it?
Is this the excuses starting?
We could have held Iraq if it qasn't for the Brits
I think basically the septics will be defeated elsewhere to
The minute you hand over to the Iraqies it all goes Pete Tong so what will the US do?
Once they start handing over and pulling back they will be in the exact same position or are they staying there forever?
Maybe until the oil runs out... Then hopefully they'll crack on with slaughtering each other
 

OldSnowy

LE
Moderator
Book Reviewer
#5
The article is pretty accurate, as far as I can tell - though I admit to being a bit out of touch with the local goings-on at least.

But - this is what happens when you try to fight 2 wars with 1 (small) Army. To maintain progress in Basra (and in Maysan Province as well) would have needed us to keep a Division there - which we cannot do. Now, we simply do not hae sufficient forces on the ground to impose our will. One big base = one big target, and an equally big lack of local knowledge. At least the Yanks are trying a 'surge' - we didn't, probably because we couldn't. Our Armed Forces are simply inadequate to complete the task while conducting a major campaign in Afghanistan..
 
#6
OSnowy - how very true, our forces have become a defence force not able to keep sustained action running. Thanks to the Blair legacy...
 
#7
In Saddams time he maintained an entire Army Corps in Maysan, we maintained 500 people. Of course things aren't going to go well there!

In Basra, the problem lies with the local battle for control and influence. Short of killing all the locals and putting tame puppets in place, I fail to see how we can influence the locals. It is a lost cause for local reasons, not due to any lack of effort on HM Forces part.
 
#9
Gordon has got a plan, leave so few troops there they can effect nothing, and have difficulty protecting themselves while at the same time taking casualties daily for no discernable gain.

Labour Foreign "policy" , not utterly utterly useless, not one bit, I'd like to quash that rumour right now.
 
#10
You have to remember too, since word got out that you guys were pulling out (and moving to Afghanistan, this American knows the deal) the insurgents amassed in Basra to do the ol' "we kicked em out" routine, which they did not succeed at.

Besides, how can you lose when you really had no objective in the first place?

You guys did a good job down there, and I for one would like to thank any of you that served there for sticking with us even in this current stupidity.

Don't let any journo, American or otherwise tell you different.

The current statements are simply American politicians. Remember there's an election next year, and if Obama gets in office, maybe we'll all meet in Pakistan this time next year.
 
#11
Papa_Lazarou said:
Gordon has got a plan
I'd like to quash that rumour right now.
 
#12
It doesnt matter how long we stay there, the end outcome will be the same.
I wont compare this to OP banner, because that was in the uk..but it did last 38 years. This has been going on 4 years now ( Iraq) and is in the middle east...these people have been fighting forever for one thing or another.

The one thing I know though is that the place isnt worth any death of any coalition soldier and I really think now is the time to with draw..wheter we call it a win or not.

And if Gordoan Brown says we need to stay til the job is done, well bloody well send him and the rest of the 'Failure' party and see if they can get the job done any quicker.
 
#13
Smacks to me of trying to shame us (or similar) into staying in Iraq. It would be cynical to suggest that this article was politically motivated :)
 
#14
ghost_us said:
The current statements are simply American politicians. Remember there's an election next year, and if Obama gets in office, maybe we'll all meet in Pakistan this time next year.
So, maybe there some common ground here. Apparently American politicians are untrustworthy and will say anything to stay in power or win an election.

And there's me thinking it was a purely British phenomenon....
 
#15
Unsworth said:
ghost_us said:
The current statements are simply American politicians. Remember there's an election next year, and if Obama gets in office, maybe we'll all meet in Pakistan this time next year.
So, maybe there some common ground here. Apparently American politicians are untrustworthy and will say anything to stay in power or win an election.

And there's me thinking it was a purely British phenomenon....
Alas we have crappy politicians in commen... once in a blue moon an actual leader comes forward but most of the time, we have to make do with identical except for rhetoric idiots that are presented to us for voting by the two major parties.
 
#16
Unsworth said:
ghost_us said:
The current statements are simply American politicians. Remember there's an election next year, and if Obama gets in office, maybe we'll all meet in Pakistan this time next year.
So, maybe there some common ground here. Apparently American politicians are untrustworthy and will say anything to stay in power or win an election.

And there's me thinking it was a purely British phenomenon....
No it is much worse in the US than Britain.

Here's one example that really made my jaw drop a couple of weeks ago; Senator Lugar is now advocating a withdrawal from Iraq but had originally voted yes to the war. In a TV interview (Charlie Rose, July 5, 2007) he said he only voted for the war because he did not know the history of Iraq, that he was not briefed properly, that he had no idea the Shia, Sunni and Kurdish factions would end up fighting each other and that the Iraq mess is all the fault of Britain and France because of their previous diplomacy there!!!

Basically it was everyone else's fault that he voted for the war. But you would think that if you are voting on whether to invade a country or not you would have at least a most basic understanding of the country's history and culture?
 
#17
Unfortunately true!
I first got to Basrah in Sept 03, and all were harking on about how great the Brits were, how the policy of 'softly softly' was so much better.
What a crock. A 'cheers easy' policy more like....we allowed the scrotes to sneak in and pull the rug from under us.
The local populace of Basrah/Umm Q etc are renowned throughout Iraq for being a bit......'simple' shall we say. Also a history of 'ali-baba ism' as well. The ability for the public that you've spent months winning over to turn on you on the clerics say so was gobsmacking. At least the yanks have won over some tribes (a huge part of Basrah/Maysan life) particulary in Anbar.
Equally gobsmacking was the extent of no 10's influence at Div HQ. Nothing like dictating policy and turning the blokes (and girls as well) into fig 11's..the whole place really is a giant puzzle palace and shame on the headshed for allowing themselves to be led by the nose...
I read people slating the yanks for over-zealousness (especially on counter-IDF batterys) on the boards. Those of us that have been there recently know what a crock of sh1t the whole thing is. This is an open forum so am not going to give incidents, but there's a lot to be said for shooting back instead of just sitting there day after day taking it and putting people in bags/filling up the BMH.
Someone slagged of a yank guy for suggesting that we have UAV's up 24/7 on search & destroy missions for MBP's........why? What do yu think are above Baghdad all the time (with fast air on call)? And they get results as well.
The reason WHY they ain't above Basrah is the same why britmil are still using snatch wagons etc etc-MONEY. :x
When the planned draw back happens, it'll be stated that this was intended all along. JAM etc will then state that they alone have driven the British from Basrah City (and you watch the IDF at the COB get REALLY outrageous), and that they will now drive them from Iraq itself.
Who'd you think the ordinary public in Basrah will believe?
What a mess.
 
#19
Woody,

Excellent post I concur with much of what you say. However three points:

Politically, and footprint wise, the US and UK are out of Sync and have been since the inception of the plan, this without a clear end-state and diminishing support are the root causes of this mission's failure - it is failing and will be seen as such with 20.20 applied.

Basrah is and has been different to the rest of S.IZ because of Fadhila, their presence has marginalised Sadr's lot and SCIRI....when we pull back to the COB the 'civil war' begins........ only if it enhances a factoins power or position will we (the COB) be attacked.....what will happen I suspect is that we will become awash with actionable Intel from the groups hoping that we do their dirty work for them.

What ever the right or wrong way to counter IDF is we urgently need to assess both the defensive and offensive measure we take, learn from IZ and damn well make sure we apply it to AFG.

My greatest concern, having never support the IZ campagin, is that our (UK) perceived defeat in Iraq will prevent our calls for assistance in AFG being heard in Washington.....since we have cut and run once we will cut and run again this tiem from Helmand
 
#20
Jailorinummqasr,

some fair points yourself mate. I see that the Basrah Governor is just holding on to power by his finger tips-once he goes then Fadilah lose their main power in the city-just as well they have the olifields/OPF. I wonder if he still has the a/c unit from Camp Abu Naji in his office? That was a rumour going round..

Once we leave The Palace etc and move to the COB, we'll never be able to get back into the city lets face it. It'll be 'Blackhawk Down' syndrome where you get dicked the minute you start rolling out those gates (DBE-bless em :x DBETT wake the fcuk up!!! ).
But then agan we have the RAF Police 'anti-dicking patrols' to stop the rot- 'I'm going forward'...to the car park. Bless. :roll:
 

Top