Sunday, September 02, 2007

Sic transit Britannia

The assessments of the British experience in Basra are beginning to appear, and the news isn't good. Patrick Cockburn of the London-based Independent has one of the first in Monday's first edition. Here are some excerpts from the article:

"The withdrawal of British forces from Basra Palace," Cockburn begins, "ahead of an expected full withdrawal from the city as early as next month, marks the beginning of the end of one of the most futile campaigns ever fought by the British Army.
Ostensibly, the British will be handing over control of Basra to Iraqi security forces. In reality, British soldiers control very little in Basra, and the Iraqi security forces are largely run by the Shia militias."

Contrary to what we have been told, British forces were not creating order, they were maintaining disorder...

"The British failure is almost total after four years of effort and the death of 168 personnel. 'Basra's residents and militiamen view this not as an orderly withdrawal but rather as an ignominious defeat,' says a report by the Brussels-based International Crisis Group. 'Today, the city is controlled by militias, seemingly more powerful and unconstrained than before.'"

How will this play in the United States, ahead of the Petraeus report?

"The pullout will be a jolt for the US because it undermines its claim that it is at last making progress in establishing order in Iraq because Sunni tribes have turned against al-Qa'ida and because of its employment of more sophisticated tactics. In practice, the US controls very little of the nine Shia provinces south of Baghdad."

What about the impact on Iraq as a whole?

"The violence in Basra is not primarily against the occupation or over sectarian differences (the small Sunni minority has largely been driven out). The fighting has been and will be over local resources. The fragile balance of power is dominated by three groups: Fadhila, which controls the Oil Protection Force; the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, which dominates the intelligence service and police commando units, and The Mehdi Army, which runs much of the local police force, port authority and the Facilities Protection Force. One Iraqi truck driver said he had to bribe three different militia units stationed within a few kilometres of each other in order to proceed.

In terms of establishing an orderly government in Basra and a decent life for its people," Cockburn concludes, "The British failure has been absolute."

I wonder how President Bush will react to, and/or spin, the descent of the Shiite south into civil war, adding to the Shia-Sunni conflict in the central part of the country, the Sunni vs. Al-Quaeda/US vs. Al-Quaeda conflict in and around Baghdad and the possible escape of the Kurds from the sinking ship?

And what are the chances that General Petraeus will take questions from the Great American Public? Mine are above.


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