Different voices discussing the events in Basra

Google shows dozens or hundreds of websites with folks discussing the recent events in Basra.  On one level that is good, helping us collectively absorb and digest what is happening in this war.  On another it might hurt us more than it helps, as much of the discussion is by folks with little knowledge of Iraq — its players and dynamics.  This is characteristic of modern America, from the upper echelons down to the grass roots.

The fragmentary accounts we have of the pre-war decision-making suggest that the discussions were closely held among senior decision-makers, with little input from the professional staff of DoD, State, and the intelligence community — the people who have actual knowledge of and experience in the Middle East.  Looking back in history, where we can see more clearly, the Pentagon Papers show the same dynamic at work in the Vietnam War.  As the time for major decisions grew near, the decision-makers excluded their supporting staff — relying on their personal body of experience and knowledge.  Unfortunately, that was inadequate for the task — as we learned to our great sorrow.

With these lessons learned, perhaps we can do better in the future.  For example, the Internet gives acess to several good sources of information about the fighting in Basra.  Here are a few that I find valuable, in no particular order.  Please tell us in the comments about sites you find of use!

I.  Who are the Iraq Security Forces“, W. Patrick Lang (Colonel, US Army, retired), posted at Sic Semper Tyrannis (26 March 2008)

So, there is fighting in Basra among the Shia?  What a surprise!  A showdown there between forces of the Mahdi Army and the rest has been “in the cards” for some time.  The MSM talks as though the “Iraqi Security Forces” are something other than representatives of militia anti Sadrist forces among the Shia.  That is not the case.  The security forces really represent the power of some of the Shia parties/militias being used in this case against the Sadrists.  There is an ongoing struggle among the major Shia factions in Iraq.  One of these is the Mahdi Army of Moqtada al-Sadr.  Others include the Dawa allies of Prime Ministers Maliki, the al-Hakim faction (SIIC), the Badr Force (generally allied with Hakim) and Fadila in the Basra area.

Need a score card?  Well…  the “security forces” are full of Badr Force militia men.  These people belong to an organization that was raised originally by Iran to fight against IRAQ.  They have been recruited into the “security forces” in large numbers.  They intend to break the Mahdi Army if they can and the US seems to approve of that idea.

Reinforcements have been sent from Karbala to Basra.  Karbala is virtually ruled by the Badr Force. 

The US has been treasuring the idea that the apparatus of the Iraqi state is other than a congeries of militia factions and parties.  Once again the untruth of that is exposed.

Who is firing into the Green Zone?  I doubt if anyone really knows.

II.  For a more detailed analysis we can read “The Enigmatic Second Battle of Basra“, Reidar Visser (26 March 2008)  (hat tip to Marc Lynch at Abu Aardvark).

III.  For a strategic view by someone with an understanding of both 4GW and Middle East societies:  “Other peoples’ civil wars“, posted by Chet Richards at Defense and the National Interest (26 March 2008).  A brief excerpt:

The fighting in the south bears watching. Some news reports paint it as a confrontation between the national forces of a legitimate Iraqi government and armed street gangs allied with Iran. … Another view is that it represents clashes between various militias, some of which happen to be wearing Iraqi flags on their uniforms.

IV.  There are some broad dynamics about the Iraq that can be seen by non-experts, even from America.  Matthew Yglesias is an expert in neither geopolitics nor the Middle East, but is a skilled journalist and an excellent writer.  The following seems to nicely capture the situation, an excerpt from “A friend in need” (26 March 2008):

Eric Martin rounds up some evidence that “should make US policymakers wonder whether, yet again, we are backing the less popular local elements simply because they tell us what we want to hear.” That seems wrong to me. The would-be imperial power has to back the “less popular local elements.” The key thing is to find groups that are strong enough to hold on to power with external support, but too weak to come to be in a position to kick the ladder of external support away.

Yes, it seems stupid for American soldiers to be risking their lives for the sake of Iranian-backed Islamist parties’ struggle against a nationalist Islamist party, but that’s the perverse logic of the situation. If ISCI had more popularity and legitimacy, they wouldn’t need us. And if they didn’t need us, we wouldn’t want them, just as we don’t really want anything to do with the self-confident Sadrists. The only problem is ginning up domestic political support in the United States for the gambit. Hence we hear a lot about Iranian support for Sadrist elements or even al-Qaeda, and very little about Iranian support for their primary allies in Iraq — allies who just happen to be our allies too.

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).

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3 thoughts on “Different voices discussing the events in Basra”

  1. Anthony J. Alfidi

    “With these lessons learned, perhaps we can do better in the future.”

    Perhaps our decisionmakers have learned something after all. If Mr. Yglesias’ analysis is correct, then the U.S. has correctly identified the need to weaken the hand of stronger factions within Iraq.

    Col. Lang contends that the U.S. views Iraq as something “other than a congeries of militia factions and parties,” but this purported view is IMHO part of the info ops campaign directed at the American public. Our leaders may indeed realize that Iraq is merely a collection of factions to be played against each other. The presentation of rump Iraq as a singular state is the Straussian noble lie.

    These are all big ifs, of course. Our elites have acquired an appetite for empire, but have they acquired the aptitude for one? The jury’s still out, but the need for an IO campaign indicates that the American public has neither the appetite nor the aptitude for colonial projects . . . for now.
    Fabius Maximus replies: A masterly summary! I vote for door #2 — that the US government does not have the ability to run a 21st century colony. Going futher, I doubt it is possible to do in an age in which 4GW has become the dominent form of warfare. Since Mao brought the art of 4GW to maturity, has anyone successfully run a colony?

  2. “Please tell us in the comments about sites you find of use!”

    Internet is a wonderfull tool not only for the 4GW but too for who studies 4GW. See Sadr’s Defensive Strategy, John Robb at Global Guerillas (27 March 2008). If that is true, the sadrists are wining and some badr allied to them. I don’t know middle east and I am not a military specialist or foreign politics specialist, but if badr is iranian backed (Colonel W. Patrick Lang said it), it is Iran starting some deal with Sadr?

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