Summary: It has been five months since the fighting in Basra, which I described as a test of the accuracy of US-based experts vs. on-the-scene war bloggers. Who did a better job of reporting and analysis? My preliminary scoring suggested a clear win for the war-bloggers (see here and here). Here we give a final score to the contest. It is not the result I expected when I started the series!
In a series of articles (listed at the end of this post) about the fighting in Basra I contrasted the views of experts with war-bloggers (esp Bill Roggio of the Long War Journal, Michael Totten, and Michael Yon).
How did the two views differ (simplifying the two sides’ view for easy comparison)?
The war-bloggers described the Basra fighting as a normal “government vs. militia” operation. The experts put more emphasis on the political dimensions of these operations – an apparent attempt by Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki to prevent losses in the next elections.
The war-bloggers described the operations as a success; the experts reported this was at best a tie, and more likely a win for al Sadr. (as seen in the many comparisons of Basra with TET, like this).
Examples of the war bloggers reporting about the Basra fighting
From the Instapundit, 25 March 2008:
MICHAEL YON EMAILS: “It’s important to contextualize the fighting in Basra. That the Iraqi Army apparently is fighting JAM is important; a largely Shia Government of Iraq is in command of the Iraqi Army. The Iraqi Army is fighting Shia militia. This is not bad news.”
“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.
Looking back, what happened in Basra?
Consider these 3 recent articles.
- “Maliki’s bid to be the strong man“, Gregory Gause (U of Vermont), posted at Abu Aardvark, 3 September 2008.
- “Thoughts on Gause“, Prof Marc Lynch, posted at his blog Abu Aardvark, 4 September 2008
- “Malki the strongman?“, Iraqologist, posted at abu muqawama, 5 September 2008
They all reflect the new situation in Iraq, esp. Maliki’s new assertiveness following his success in Basra. A clear win for the war-bloggers!
Now the difficult questions. What was their advantage over the experts?
- better information?
- superior analytical skill?
- fewer or weaker biases, or “better” biases?
Basra was one campaign in the Iraq War, or wars. We cannot yet assess its significance in terms of the outcome. Perhaps it was a turning point. Perhaps it was just a blip on the path to fractured Iraq. But we can learn something from it about the sources we reply upon for information about the war.
Please share your comments by posting below. Please make them brief (250 words max), civil, and relevant to this post. 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)
For more information: