Scoring Basra: War bloggers 2, area experts 0

English-language sources have reported little about Basra since the fighting burned down, but what little I see supports the war-bloggers’ narrative more than that of the US-based area experts.  That is, the fighting does appear to have strengthened the position of the central government vs. al Sadar’s Mahdi Army.  This article strongly supports this theory, adding to those cited in my 25 April post.

Drive in Basra by Iraqi Army Makes Gains“, New York Times (12 May 2008) — Excerpt:

Three hundred miles south of Baghdad, the oil-saturated city of Basra has been transformed by its own surge, now seven weeks old. In a rare success, forces loyal to Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki have largely quieted the city, to the initial surprise and growing delight of many inhabitants who only a month ago shuddered under deadly clashes between Iraqi troops and Shiite militias.

Just as in Baghdad, Iraqi and Western officials emphasize that the gains here are “fragile,” like the newly planted roadside saplings that fail to conceal mounds of garbage and pools of foul-smelling water in the historic port city’s slums.

The principal factor for improvement that people in Basra cite is the deployment of 33,000 members of the Iraqi security forces after the March 24 start of operations, which allowed the government to blanket the city with checkpoints on every major intersection and highway.

Borrowing tactics from the troop increase in Baghdad, the Iraqi forces raided militia strongholds and arrested hundreds of suspects. They also seized weapons including mortars, rocket-propelled grenades and sophisticated roadside bombs that officials say were used by Iranian-backed groups responsible for much of the violence.

Government forces have now taken over Islamic militants’ headquarters and halted the death squads and “vice ‘enforcers’ ” who attacked women, Christians, musicians, alcohol sellers and anyone suspected of collaborating with Westerners.

… Gen. Mohan al-Freiji, the Iraqi commander in Basra, said the city was “75 percent” under control. He said the principal threat stemmed from rogue elements of the Mahdi Army and factions like the Iraqi Hezbollah (Party of God), Thairallah (Revenge of God) and Fadhila (Virtue).

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. Who was right about Basra — experts or war bloggers?   (25 April 2008)
  15. Archive of links to articles about the Iraq War
  16. Our Goals and Benchmarks for the Expedition to Iraq

7 thoughts on “Scoring Basra: War bloggers 2, area experts 0

  1. But Sadr is still declaring a truce and trying avoid a full out war. He knows that the Govt is the preferred Shiite faction of Iran, he has no wish for a Fallujah to be done by the US on Basra.

    So he is temporising. Iran, though it prefers the Govt Shiites is (it seems at least) to be trying to be an honest broker between them and end inter-Shiite fighting.

    But, and this is a big but. If he is pushed to far into a situation where it is total surrender or fighting, then we will see some violence. And while the US might be able to bomb Basra, Sadr city, etc into rubble, it will cost them the Green Zone, which will also be rubble. Sadr has not even brought out his big guns or main forces yet.

    On another note, the push against Hezbollah. It took them 6 hours to control Beirut (must have been taking it easy). Hezbollah is rapidly moving into that pantheon of military ‘do nots’. Do not invade Russia, do not piss China off and now, do not attack Hezbollah.

    One of the sad things that I find about many professionals (and interested amateurs) is to Western centric view. This gets bizarre at time. We love the Wermacht, and ignore the British 8th Army, which was better, let alone the Aussies/New Zealanders who were the only ones to fight the Germans and Japanese on anything like equal terms and beat them one on one. But we ignore others. In the great pantheon of generals, where is Giap? We all love Rommel, but Monty, who beat him every time they fought, which was particularly difficult because Monty was on the attack and Rommel was on the defence.

    Me I’m happy to study anyone from any side. These days studying Hezbollah should be compulsory, for any military or COIN people. Ideally, when we come to our senses and make a deal with these people, we should organise exchanges with them. They could teach us a lot about infantry level military skills. And a lot about how to conduct operations and not just hold, but gain local peoples’ liking and respect. Their tight discipline and politeness in dealing with the public should be in every Western Armies book. And they have forgotten more about COIN than we in the West will ever know (unless we go and talk to them of course)

    For a primer read the Asia Times series “How Hezbollah defeated Israel.”

    They really are a class act by any standards. Wermacht level motivation, discipline and fighting skills, with acute knowledge of local conditions and excellent human relation skills. A whole army of SAS.

    I once did a post on DNI about the perfect defence forces, basically a lot of SAS level people. Not a huge number, but so good, so skilled (and reasonably well equipped enough) to deter anyone from even thinking about attacking, with a plus that it is cheap. Only Hezbollah comes close to that model that I was thinking about (we spend money on computer programs like the F-35).

    The laugh (if you can laugh about these things). In 2006 Israel really only fought against their reservists (ie local people with part time training), they never fought against their full timers.

    Another historical laugh, when the Aussies beat the Japanese in hand to hand fighting, for the first time ever, the brunt of the fighting had been done by the people who were not even good enough to be reservists.

    The military world is a LOT bigger than the US/UK (ignoring, as the US always does, Monty of course)/USSR/Germany/etc.

    I should add that I’m not being deliberately argumentative. I just want people to think outside the square.

  2. So they needed about 30k personnel to silence the city (opposing some but not all militias there). The area has roughly 1.5 million inhabitants, right? What was the old rule of thumb about necessary troops to quell resistance? Was it close to this ratio?

    @OldSkeptic; I read elsewhere that Hezbollah only had its full-time personnel in the fight ’06 and did NOT mobilize. 180° other direction than what you wrote. Now I hope that you’re less lazy than me and present a source…

    And actually, a perfect defense force should be able to protect not only against invasion, but also against destruction of infrastructure and economy by bombs.

  3. “And actually, a perfect defense force should be able to protect not only against invasion, but also against destruction of infrastructure and economy by bombs”

    Sven, you’re looking at this from the perspective of the wealthy West.

    The War Nerd aptly summarized Hezbollah’s (and their supporters’) response:

    ” If Israel retaliates by blasting every target of value in Lebanon, every TV tower and shopping mall and freeway…well, that’s the beauty of the plan: the Shia are the poorest of the poor. They don’t own any of that shit anyway. They sit back and laugh watching their neighbors’ stuff that they’ve envied all their lives get blown away — and it’s the Israelis who get the blame.”

  4. Thanks Greg, though I think the next (and there will be a next) attack by Israel on Lebanon will have some, nasty, surprises for the Israeli air force.

    Sven, start with the link I supplied then move on, you will probably find more than I did. Some of that is my (and others) interpretation of what happened. What seems to have happened was that the Israelis blowing the crap out if anything that moved on roads slowed down their mobilisation (every plan turns custard in a real war), plus they left too many people around the Beirut area, in case of Israeli thrusts (ah la 1982). Maybe they had less confidence in their front line people than is now expressed and expected the Israelis to punch thoughh them more quickly and get further north faster. Whatever, they did not move their full time people down fast enough to get really into the fighting. So it was the locals that held the line.

    And did they ever. As I said, a class act. And that includes their Beirut takeover, yes they did it quickly, yes they did it with a lot less troops than anyone else (30K, I thought it was less that 10k). But they did it well. Read Asia Times for some front line stuff. They created a ‘check points’, they were polite, they worked in the local area to deal with their issues, they eat at the same places everyone else did, They were incredibly disciplined, a bit disparaging about their allies at times though. No one objected. As a normal person you could get throgh the check point easily. Oh, and i there was fighting .. the other side died real quick.

    Interpretation: You felt safe around them! You knew they would put themselves in front of you to protect you. You could trust them. They would not shoot you, they would help you

    Compare ‘Grasshopper’ to US work in Iraq (et al). I repeat and I will repeat it for a long time, “Hezbollah has forgotten more about COIN then we will ever (especially the way we are going) know”.

  5. Unfortunately, OS, the link’s not working for me.

    Fabius Maximus replies: The link has been fixed. Thanks for catching this.

  6. I’d recommend bookmarking Asia Times as a general principle, they have some great reporters and commentators.

  7. Update: “Iraq’s ports thriving, now that the government’s in charge“, McClatchy Newspapers (22 May 2008) — More evidence that Iraq’s government won in Basra, that the “war bloggers” were correct and the US-based area experts were wrong. Excerpt:

    Iraq’s principal ports, which were plagued by corruption, theft and insecurity while under the control of militia-linked port guards, have registered a dramatic increase in trade, revenues and productivity since the government took control following its March military offensive, according port officials and a British military spokesman.

    … Basra is the center of Iraq’s wealth, home to its major ports and 90 percent of the nation’s oil. Now the ports are “completely” under government control, said Maj. Tom Holloway the British military spokesman in Basra. Import and exports have doubled since the military operation started in late March and security for the port was transferred to Iraqi Army control, Holloway said. “The productivity within the ports just by stopping these dirty practices increased by 100 percent,” Holloway said.

    … The military’s takeover also has meant greater security for port employees. In the Khour Zubair harbor on a recent afternoon, men worked to unload ships unconcerned about the time. Since the operation began in late March to battle Shiite militias who’d imposed strict Islamic law and ruled the street with weapons, Basrawis feel more comfortable roaming the streets. Employees here no longer hurry to leave by 6 p.m. so they won’t get caught on the dark roads when kidnappings and killings were more likely.

    “We’re free to go and come now,” said Mohammed Abdou, 23, a foreman at the Khour Zubair port. “In the past the drivers had to pay just to enter to do their job. Now we can leave late at night without the worry of kidnappings or killings.”

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