(#9 in a series) Current events in Basra provide a test case to compare the accuracy of the war bloggers vs. that of conventional experts. This post shows of a prominent war blogger, Bill Roggio (Editor of the Long War Journal (LWJ); see his bio here). The following post looks at the views of several experts.
Update: I use Roggio’s work, like Totten’s in the earlier posts, as one of the best of the war bloggers. Roggio’s analysis about Basra differs from the experts’ view in two ways.
LWJ describes the Basra fighting as a normal “government vs. militia” operation. This contrasts with analysis by regional experts, who emphasize the political dimensions of these operations – an apparent attempt by Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki to prevent losses in the next elections.
LWJ describes the operations as a success, contrast with analysts’ reports that this – based on what little we know – appears to be at best a tie, and more likely a win for al Sadr. See Marc Lynch’s reports here and here, and Chet Richard’s analysis here.
“Maliki: ‘Security operations in Basra will continue‘”, Bill Roggio, Editor of the Long War Journal (31 March 2008) – Excerpt:
One day after Muqtada al Sadr, the leader of the Mahdi Army, called for his fighters to abandon combat, the fighting in Basrah has come to a near-halt, and the Iraqi security forces are patrolling the streets. While Sadr spokesman said the Iraqi government agreed to Sadr’s terms for the cease-fire, Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki has said the security forces will continue operations in Basrah in the South. Meanwhile, the Mahdi Army took heavy casualties in Basrah, Nasiriyah, Babil, and Baghdad over the weekend, despite Sadr’s call for the end of fighting.
Maliki was clear that operations would continue in the South. “The armed groups who refuse al Sadr’s announcement and the pardon we offered will be targets, especially those in possession of heavy weapons,” Maliki said, referring to the 10-day amnesty period for militias to turn in heavy and medium weapons. “Security operations in Basra will continue to stop all the terrorist and criminal activities along with the organized gangs targeting people.”
The Iraqi military said it was moving in more forces into the South after admitting it was surprised by the level of resistance encountered in Basrah. “Fresh military reinforcements were sent to Basra to start clearing a number of Basra districts of wanted criminals and gunmen taking up arms,” said Brigadier General Abdel Aziz al Ubaidi, the operations chief for the Ministry of Defense. “Preparations for fresh operations have been made to conduct raids and clearance operations in Basra … [and] military operations would continue to restore security in Basra.”
The reasons behind Sadr’s call for a cessation in fighting remain unknown, but reports indicate the Mahdi Army was having a difficult time sustaining its operations and has taken heavy casualties.
… 571 Mahdi Army fighters have been killed, 881 have been wounded, 490 have been captured, and 30 have surrendered over the course of seven days of fighting.
To over-generalize, war bloggers’ views of the Iraq War differ from that of experts on the region in several ways.
Reporting the war as good guys — our allies — fighting bad guys (al Qaeda). But, like al Qaeda in Iraq, Shiite Arab and Sunni Arab militias have also done terrible things to civilians — murder, rape, ethnic cleanings (all those incidents reported daily at Juan Cole’s Informed Comment). It paints a false picture to whitewash the militia in order to make al Qaeda look like the bad guys.
Ignoring or minimizing the economic depression the war has imposed on Iraq, and the hardships causes by deterioration of basic services: sewage, clean water, electricity, health care.
Ignoring or minimizing the refugee crisis and the effects of the emigration of so many of Iraq’s professional class.
Repeating scraps of good news, often false (e.g., the “refugees are streaming home” rumor — not in large numbers, fewer willingly).
Ignoring the fracturing of Iraq, reporting only about the “Iraq Army” or “Iraq Police”, as if this was Iowa — ignoring the often-vital context of sectarian/ethnic identity.
Ignoring the relentless weakening role of the central government in Iraq, and its replacement by local structures (a corollary of the #5).
Worst of all, they provide analysis of the war looking only at the plus side of the ledger. This is the fast road to disaster, ignoring the cost in money and blood, damage to America’s strategic position (e.g., rise of Iran’s influence in the Middle East) — even a broad evaluation of the war in terms of the official goals and benchmarks.
Please share your comments by posting below (brief and relevant, please), or email me at fabmaximus at hotmail dot com (note the spam-protected spelling).
For more information about the different reports we see about the Iraq War
- Three blind men examine the Iraq Elephant (6 February 2008)
- The oddity of reports about the Iraq War (13 March 2008) — Some theories why after 5 years we still debate basic things about the Iraq War.
- War porn (25 March 2008) – Discussing the strengths and weaknesses of the war-bloggers’ reporting in Iraq.
- More views of the events at Basra (2) — bloggers and war-bloggers (28 March 2008) – Contrast the war bloggers’ reports with those of some experts.
- A rebuttal to “War Porn” (it takes 2 sides to have a discussion)(29 March 2008) — Someone writes a defense of the war bloggers, and my reply.
- A look at the writings of “war blogger” Michael J. Totten (31 March 2008) – extracts of his posts from 2003 – 2005.
- An email discussion with Michael Totten (31 March 2008)
- Evidence of the war bloggers’ growing influence (2 April 2008)
- Basra, a test case: war blogger’s vs. experts (2 April 2008)
- Experts’ views about the recent fighting in Basra (2 April 2008)
- Sources of the Instapundit’s knowledge — analysis or cartoons? (3 April 2008)
- Some comments by Bill Roggio, Editor of the Long War Journal (3 April 2008)
- Two views of Fallujah – which tells us more about the future? (23 April 2008)
- Who was right about Basra — experts or war bloggers? (25 April 2008)
- Scoring Basra: War bloggers 2, area experts 1 (14 May 2008)
For more information see…