View Full Version : Brits withdraw to Basra Airport: long check-in lines

Osborne Russell
09-19-2007, 08:42 AM
Helicopters on the roof, anyone?


First the exit, then the deal denials, next the handover
Local forces prepare to take security responsibility in weeks

Richard Norton-Taylor
Tuesday September 4, 2007
The Guardian

Sunday night's operation in which a British battlegroup left the palace means that all 5,500 British soldiers in southern Iraq will now be based at the city's airport, the last remaining UK garrison in Iraq.

British defence sources also made clear they were resting their hopes on Iraq's most senior army officer in Basra, General Mohan al-Fireji, and were backing his attempts to persuade Shia militias to lay down their arms.

"There have been attacks on us because the militia gain credibility with their own people," a senior defence official said yesterday. Iran's support for the militias was welcomed, he added, because it was seen to be helping to get rid of the British.

This is funny:

Referring to estimates that 90% of attacks in Basra are directed against British troops, the official added: "Because most of the attacks are directed at us we expect the level of violence to drop [following the departure from Basra city]."

This seems a credible account, i.e., it doesnít require us to discount what we know of history and human nature when observing developments in Iraq. The very important point is: there are multiple militias competing for power over an economy which is essentially a giant black market. Some are Shia and some are Sunni. Some are no doubt Al Qaeda. Some get no help from Iran, some get a lot, some get a little. Doesnít matter. They all get prestige from attacking the infidels and prestige is power and power is money. Dig? Itís perfect. They get street cred by attacking the westerners, without antagonizing their competitors. Gangland, yo.

Now Ė how is the US Military supposed to bring an end to this situation? The US Military will be doing well not to perpetuate it indefinitely. The Brits to their credit have got wise; but they must admit they have a head start in experience with this kind of situation, from colonial days. The real bummer is when you canít leave, like Northern Ireland.

The road from Basra: to some a handover, to many a retreat

Peter Beaumont
Tuesday September 4, 2007
The Guardian

Yesterday as the Iraqi flag was hoisted over Basra Palace, the city that the British left, Iraq's second largest, was largely under militia control. In reality the city that was Basra in 2003 was long dead before yesterday's withdrawal, and the fragile possibilities that it promised on that morning when Saddam's rule collapsed were long ago snuffed out.

It has been suffocated by the rise of militias that took over the police, the politics and all aspects of Basra life. Even two years ago unembedded reporters would be happy to travel to Basra to escape the violence elsewhere to a place where it was still just possible to stay in local hotels and travel independently.

But now Basra has become like any other city in Iraq. It is a dark and violent place that has become a symbol for the other, barely spoken-about conflict in Iraq. It has been largely ignored among the reporting of the other more obvious violence: al-Qaida's suicide spectaculars in Baghdad and the north, the sectarian killings, and the relentless attacks directed at US troops.
Instead there has been the use of violence to secure political control of the south by the rival Shia factions - most prominent among them the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, backed financially by one Iranian faction, the Mahdi army of Moqtada al-Sadr. It has largely taken control of Basra's police. At one stage, more than 100 different political groups, a considerable number connected to armed fighters, populated Basra's political scene.

In 2004, the first signs of what would become inevitable became apparent.

On the hospital and university campuses these same armed groups were moving in, attempting to take over hospital wards and departments, and, when they succeeded, imposing their own religious and political views. In doing so they imposed a curiously Iraqi version of Iran's revolution back in the 1970s - religiously conservative but also violently anarchic.

What began with threatening posters, warning women what classes and clothes were appropriate for their status, has taken over the campuses. These days no one needs to tell the female students what behaviour is expected.

Professional women, professors and doctors would describe how their lives had become ever more grim. Those who had never worn a headscarf in their careers were now going veiled in the street, women students were being bullied and intimidated. All this in a city that was considered a relatively cosmopolitan outpost in Saddam's Iraq.

Other outspoken members of civil society learned to shut up or flee or risk the bullet - local journalists and judges, the heads of local NGOs. Where there was resistance to the creeping influence of the militia, hospital directors, administrators and staff were killed.

Although the British viewed what was happening as a messy little sideshow, something that would disappear as their attempts to impose democracy continued, it was the real and enduring story of Basra that only became more entrenched as the years went on.

With Shia resistance to the occupation gaining pace across Iraq, the political parties and their armed enforcers, starting in the holy cities of Kerbala and Najaf, engaged in a Shia political turf war which gradually transformed the city's politics. As the parties fought, and fractured, the fight for Basra and the south came to resemble a gangland war.

--emphasis added

The British experience notwithstanding, America clings to the fantasy that Iraqis will naturally become pluralistic federalists if only the "foreigners" are driven out is. Iraq has plenty of thuggish Muslim fundamentalists of its own. They can crank 'em out like muffins. Why would you ever think otherwise? In the past, now, ever? The US military cannot eliminate Muslim fundamentalism, I got news for ya. Makes a good pretext for indefinite occupation to secure the oil, I admit.

Osborne Russell
09-19-2007, 11:34 AM
Note: the Brits don't call them lines, they call them "queues."