More views of the events at Basra (1) – experts

Here are some more excellent reports on events in Basra, in addition to those I posted yesterday.  Personally I have nothing to say about events in Basra, except two warnings regarding the flood of analysis flooding the media (these are not original, of course):

  1. There are no neutrals about the Iraq War.  Watch for the narratives.
  2. Someone who can knowledgeably discuss events in Dallas might know little about Basra.  An analysis based on reports in the media probably just piles ignorance on top of ignorance.

In this post, I – IV are links to what seem to me expert opinions.  In the next post, #V gives examples of what looks to me like simplistic speculation.  In the last post, VI and VII link to valuable background material.  The Internet can make us smarter or dumber, depending on how we choose to use it.

I.  As usual, John Robb has some interesting observations and forecasts – looking at events through the telescope of 4GW theory:  “Sadr’s Defensive Strategy“, John Robb, posted at Global Guerrillas (26 March 2008)

II.  Long-Distance Reporting“, Jonathan Foreman, National Review Online (27 March 2008) — I do not know if the this is correct, but if so it is an important observation.

Check out the bylines on the news-reports on the fighting in Basra and see if you can find any foreign reporters who are actually in the city they are writing about.  The New York Times’s James Glanzer is filing from a compound in Baghdad. The BBC’s reporters are doing the same. Depending on phone calls to more or less reliable – or partis-pris – Iraqi stringers at the other end of the country, they might as well be filing from Amman or Tel Aviv or New York.

… On the other hand there’s something impressive about reporters who may never have never visited Basra – the country’s second city and an hour’s flight away – sounding authoritative about the place and its atmosphere.  This is mainstream reporting on the Iraq war as it has evolved. It’s why the Michaels Totten and Yon are so important, and the milblogs, and the Iraqi blogs like Healing Iraq.

III.  Expert: Current Iraq fighting not good guys vs bad“, The Swamp – blog of the Tribune’s Washington Bureau (26 March 2008).  Excerpt:

This is the take of Anthony Cordesman, the insightful national security analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Much of the current coverage of the fighting in the south assumes that Muqtada al-Sadr and the Sadr militia are the “spoilers,” or bad guys, and that the government forces are the legitimate side and bringing order. This can be a dangerous oversimplification. There is no question that many elements of the JAM have been guilty of sectarian cleansing, and that the Sadr movement in general is hostile to the US and is seeking to enhance Muqtada al-Sadr’s political power. There is also no doubt that the extreme rogue elements in the JAM have continued acts of violence in spite of the ceasefire, and that some have ties to Iran. No one should romanticize the Sadr movement, understate the risks it presents, or ignore the actions of the extreme elements of the JAM.

But no one should romanticize Maliki, Al Dawa, or the Hakim faction/ISCI. The current fighting is as much a power struggle for control of the south, and the Shi’ite parts of Baghdad and the rest of the country, as an effort to establish central government authority and legitimate rule.

The nature of this power struggle was all too clear during a recent visit to Iraq. ISCI had de facto control over the Shi’ite governorates in the south, and was steadily expanding its influence and sometimes control over the Iraqi police. It was clearly positioning itself for power struggle with Sadr and for any elections to come. It also was positioning itself to support Hakim’s call for a nine governorate Shi’ite federation — a call that it had clear Iranian support.

The US teams we talked to also made it clear that these appointments by the central government had no real popular base. If local and provincial elections were held with open lists, it was likely that ISCI and Dawa would lose most elections because they are seen as having failed to bring development and government services.

… One of the key uncertainties that emerged during visits to the south was over how elections would shape up when there were no real political parties operating with local leaders  …

IV.  Sadrists Under Fire“, Tariq Alhomayed (the Editor-in-Chief of the Saudi newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat) (27 March 2008) — Excerpt:

I doubt that the military operation ‘Knights’ Assault’ in southern Iraq was aimed at enforcing security and state control since it appears that the party that once utilized al Sadr’s forces has decided to dispose of them today and grant authority to the pro-Iranian government.  Today, the Iraqi government is talking about the financial and arms support that the militias in the south have been receiving from neighboring countries. And if geography does not mislead us, which it doesn’t, then this neighboring state is Iran.

We are presently confronted by a similar model to that of the fall of Amal movement and the rise of Hezbollah in Lebanon. Since his retirement, isolation or exile, Muqtada al Sadr’s departure to Iran to study – according to the rumor – indicates that the stage in which Tehran utilized al Sadr has ended.

… Iran no longer needs Muqtada al Sadr but rather wants a sophisticated model that is even more progressive than Hezbollah’s in order to take over Iraq. A government in control is much better than an opposition whose only possession and demands are the right to disrupt – such as the case in Lebanon.

Today at a time when Muqtada al Sadr receives a blow Iran remains tight-lipped, same as the Shiaa clerics and all this is because there is only one control button and it belongs to Tehran. Clearly the opportunity is convenient for Iran to tighten its grip on Iraq and to exploit the US desire for Iraq’s stability at any price before the US elections take place. After the elections a new US president will arrive at the White House to find himself/herself obligated to deal with a reality that enforces itself upon Baghdad. Even if people change in the next Iraqi government, it will still continue to orbit around Iran. …

For more analysis of both this article and the Iraq situation see Marc Lynch’s “another theory for the pile“, posted at Abu Aardvark (27 March 2008).

Please tell us of any sources you have found useful by posting a comment (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

  1. Three blind men examine the Iraq Elephant (6 February 2008)
  2. 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.
  3. War porn (25 March 2008) – Discussing the strengths and weaknesses of the war-bloggers’ reporting in Iraq.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. A look at the writings of “war blogger” Michael J. Totten (31 March 2008) – extracts of his posts from 2003 – 2005.
  7. An email discussion with Michael Totten (31 March 2008)
  8. Evidence of the war bloggers’ growing influence (2 April 2008)
  9. Basra, a test case: war blogger’s vs. experts (2 April 2008)
  10. Experts’ views about the recent fighting in Basra (2 April 2008)
  11. Sources of the Instapundit’s knowledge — analysis or cartoons? (3 April 2008)
  12. Some comments by Bill Roggio, Editor of the Long War Journal (3 April 2008)
  13. Two views of Fallujah – which tells us more about the future?  (23 April 2008)
  14. Who was right about Basra — experts or war bloggers?   (25 April 2008)
  15. Scoring Basra: War bloggers 2, area experts 1  (14 May 2008)

For more information see…

  1. Archive of links to articles about the Iraq War
  2. Our Goals and Benchmarks for the Expedition to Iraq  

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