Who was right about Basra — experts or war bloggers?

Here is the first follow-up to the my series of posts about the fighting in Basra, a test of credibility — matching the reporting from Iraq by some war bloggers against the analysis of area experts at home.  There are two sets of mainstream media articles displayed below. 

  1. Articles by two major publications that in effect say the war bloggers were correct.  These deserve close attention.
  2. Current news about important developments since the fighting.

It is too soon to draw conclusions, but not too soon to start keeping score.

The first group — major media adopting the victory narrative?

I.  Sunnis Agree to End Boycott, Rejoin Iraq Government“, New York Times (24 April 2008) — Excerpt:

Iraq’s largest Sunni bloc has agreed to return to Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki’s cabinet after a boycott that lasted nearly a year, several Sunni leaders said on Thursday, citing a recently passed amnesty law and the Maliki government’s crackdown on Shiite militias as reasons for the move.

The Sunni leaders said they were still working out the details of their return, an indication that the deal could still fall through. But such a return would represent a major political victory for Mr. Maliki in the midst of a military operation that has at times been criticized as poorly planned and fraught with risk. The principal group his security forces have been confronting is the Mahdi Army, a powerful militia led by Moktada al-Sadr, the radical Shiite cleric. Even though Mr. Maliki’s American-backed offensive against elements of the Mahdi Army has frequently stalled and has led to bitter complaints of civilian casualties, the Sunni leaders said that the government had done enough to address their concerns that they had decided to end their boycott.

“Our conditions were very clear, and the government achieved some of them,” said Adnan al-Duleimi, the head of Tawafiq, the largest Sunni bloc in the government. Mr. Duleimi said the achievements included “the general amnesty, chasing down the militias and disbanding them and curbing the outlaws.”

The recently passed amnesty law has already led to the release of many Sunni prisoners, encouraging Sunni parties that the government is serious about enforcing it. And the attacks on Shiite militias have apparently begun to assuage longstanding complaints that only Sunni groups blamed for the insurgency have been the targets of American and Iraqi security forces.

II.  What a difference a month makes . . .“, The Times  (25 April 2008) — Excerpt:

 When Nouri al-Maliki launched his surprise attack against the main Shia militia in Basra, the operation appeared to be a disastrous miscalculation pitting inexperienced Iraqi soldiers against well-armed and battle-hardened street-fighters of the Mahdi Army.

Scores of soldiers defected from their ranks. Iraqi armoured vehicles were ambushed and destroyed by jubilant militiamen. An American general and several hundred US paratroopers had to race down to Iraq’s southern capital to rescue the operation with British forces offering air cover and logistical help.

… One month on and Iraq’s leader can justifiably claim to have scored a stunning victory, probably the first of its kind by the post-Saddam Iraqi army. The most notorious areas of Basra are now under government control, the Mahdi Army of Moqtadr al-Sadr has been roundly defeated and the long suffering people of Basra are celebrating freedoms they did not enjoy during the four years of British military rule in the city.

So how did a military novice, using untested troops, succeed where thousands of British forces had failed?

Update:  III.  Iraqi forces see victory in Basra“, Inside Iraq Blog at The Times (25 April 2008) — More evidence that the war bloggers were right, the area experts wrong about the fighting in Basra.  Excerpt:

Iraqi soldiers are standing proud in Basra one month after launching a surprise offensive to wipe out murderous gangs of Shia militants that had been allowed to flourish under Britain’s watch.  Many of them say the operation has boosted their confidence, but the militiamen warn that the only reason the fledgling Iraqi army had any success was because they continue to observe a ceasefire order by the radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.

Valuable current news, developments following the fighting in Basra

III.  U.S. and Iran find common ground in Iraq’s Shiite conflict“, New York Times (21 April 2008) — Amidst the US government’s “blame Iran” propaganda, how nice to see a major media story showing that we both back the same side in Iraq.  This is blindingly obvious; that the US government’s official statements tend ignore this reality is one of the more disturbing aspects of the war.

IV.  Iraq’s Badr organization denies it’s a militia“, AP (21 April 2008) — More “re-branding” in Iraq?  Who is this marketing directed at?  Does anyone in Iraq care?  Or is this step, and re-branding the Sunni Arab militia as “Sons of Iraq”, directed at building support in America?

V.   Iraqi Troops: Asleep on the Job?”, Time  (21 April 2008) — Excerpt:

Lack of professionalism is only one of the problems plaguing Iraq’s floundering forces. More troublesome is their heavily sectarian composition. Throughout southern Iraq, members of the police and army are pulled largely from the Badr Brigade — a militia tied to a Shi’ite political party, the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, which is the chief rival of Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army. A number of MPs in Baghdad even suspect that Maliki’s Basra assault was a poorly disguised government campaign to wipe out Sadr’s base of popularity before local elections in October.

VI.  In Sadr City, Basic Services Are Faltering“, New York Times (22 April 2008) — Five years of American reconstruction programs have produced little.  But we build walls very well.  Excerpt:

But almost a month after American and Iraqi forces pushed into the area, there are no signs of reconstruction. Instead, the streets are filled with mounds of trash and bubbling pools of sewage. Many neighborhoods are still without electricity, and many residents are too afraid to brave the cross-fire to seek medical care.

… Hoping to stabilize the southern portion of Sadr City, American forces are building a wall to partition the neighborhood …

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

  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. Archive of links to articles about the Iraq War — My articles,
  15. Our Goals and Benchmarks for the Expedition to Iraq

3 thoughts on “Who was right about Basra — experts or war bloggers?”

  1. “there are no signs of reconstruction. Instead, the streets are filled with mounds of trash and bubbling pools of sewage. Many neighborhoods are still without electricity”

    It may be a bit of a side track but it is interesting to seen how often the lack of trash, sewage etc is taken as a sign of success.

    I have yet to see an article which shown what priorities the locals have. Is it water, electricity etc. or something else?

  2. “It is too soon to draw conclusions”

    I’ve been stating that repeatedly. The Sunnis making moves to end their boycott is a positive development.

    I would quibble with VI “Five years of American reconstruction programs have produced little.” More properly stated, our efforts have had little impact in Sadr City. And what efforts have we made in Sadr City. Before any real reconstruction can take place, there needs to be security in place. If the locals aren’t cooperating in their own security, then efforts to keep them secure aren’t going to be successful. That may be simplified, but where things in Iraq are doing better, the locals buy in to the plan, help with their security, and then see security/economic improvements.

  3. Note the update, a new article added: “Iraqi forces see victory in Basra”, Inside Iraq Blog at The Times (25 April 2008) — More evidence that the war bloggers were right, the area experts wrong about the fighting in Basra.

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