Sunday, October 28, 2007

The British in Basra

How exactly did the British strategy differ from the American? And is there a danger that the US strategy in the north will come to the same end as the British? The Daily Telegraph reports:

It is a spectacular U-turn. Until September, when British troops pulled out of the city in what Gordon Brown described as a "pre-planned and organised" move, the fighting was as intense as any since the start of the war in 2003. This year, 44 British soldiers have died as a result of Britain's operations in Iraq. Yet their commanders are now saying they got it wrong.

Rather than fight on, they have struck a deal – or accommodation, as they describe it – with the Shia militias that dominate the city, promising to stay out in return for assurances that they will not be attacked. Since withdrawing, the British have not set foot in the city and even have to ask for permission if they want to skirt the edges to get to the Iranian border on the other side. ...

The British appear to base their new strategy on an almost total faith in one man, Gen Mohan al-Furayji, who came down from Baghdad to take over responsibility for security, promising to sort out the city. The general, a Shia in his early fifties who spent time in the notorious Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad after falling out with Saddam Hussein in the 1990s, is answerable only to Nouri al-Maliki, the Iraqi prime minister.

The British are so convinced that he is the answer to Basra's problems that they are making plans to deal with him, instead of the elected provincial governor, Mohammed al-Waily, who one official dismissed as "a problem".

It is a sad ending to a campaign which had been held up as a shining contrast to the US campaign in Iraq, made more invidious with the comparative success the Surge is having even in Shi'ite areas. Recently US Army Colonel Michael Garrett described a process the reverse of Basra in the area south of Baghdad where civilian reconstruction teams were being deployed -- not withdrawn -- into the provinces with increasing success.

Most importantly, successes were being scored not only against al-Qaeda, but against Shi'ite militias. Garrett pointed out that the Shi'ites were starting to provide crucial intelligence which enabled them to neutralize high-value targets.

The Shi'a militia, the JAM special groups remain a problem for us. But interestingly enough, we are seeing the same type of movement that we saw early on in the Sunni communities towards al Qaeda in our Shi'a communities towards JAM and especially the JAM special group members. And so today, with our concerned citizens, with the intelligence that we receive on a daily basis, we are targeting and we are detaining key members of the JAM special group network.

The Surge from the very start was a political and military offensive. Both elements had to be present in order for each to be effective. Without a political process a military effort would be a nothing but coercion. But without a military effort providing security no political solution solution could possibly take root. While it is often said that "there is no purely military solution to the problems in Iraq" it is less frequently realized that there can be no purely political solution either.

Since the final chapter in Iraqi story has not been written it is premature to conclude which strategic approach -- the British or the American -- will ultimately prove the more successful. But the outcomes of military campaigns are often less dependent on initial strategies than the ability to adapt. But crucially, many of the American shortcomings were "software defects" -- deficiencies in doctrine, lack of relevant experience, a lack of institutional memory in "colonial police" type operations -- which the hard experience of several combat tours eventually fixed. On the other hand the British weaknesses where much harder and more expensive to remedy. When the JAM and other Shi'ite militias responded to British political initiatives with sheer violence and mayhem, the British, lacking the means to protect their Iraqi partners, found their strategy collapsing about their ears. Their interpreters were driven into hiding; the inadequately protected pro-British leaders were liquidated or tortured and British operation was too small to recruit forces from outside the power of militia intimidation.


Blogger Sparks fly said...

The Shia militias seem to be rising to fill the blood soaked shoes of the late great Saddam Husein. It seems to have something to do with the innate geometry of social, moral, realities. So long as the spirit of Mohammad is in this land there will always be some group attempting to rise to fill the blood lust vacuum. If people worship Egyptian death as being the ultimate reality then they will gravitate that way even though they are very uncomfortable with the furnishings.

Jesus rose from the dead and all those who look to HIM look to life and that more abundantly. The two are not reconcilable.

The once admirable English seem to have abandoned Jesus and now all they can see is their dead. It is not surprising that Islam is stomping all around London in ten league boots. It is pathetic but not surprising. How the mighty have fallen.

Preach the Gospel in London; that's the answer. Dig up the bones of Darwin from the floor of that out to lunch "church" where his remains are buried and burn them publically on international TV.

You say that is rather unlikely? Well stranger things have happened. Because it is unlikely is no reason not to recommend it.

Obviously Mr. Sadr needs to be run down and that leaky border with Iran needs to be sealed and let General Patraeus have his way with the locals. It sounds just like the way Falluja used to be and look at that now.

I don't see how Mr. Bush can let the current situation stand. If it isn't contained, captured and killed it will spread. Basra is in a very sensitive location. A lot of oil passes that way. And the free flow of that oil is a big part of what this is all about.

I pray to God that England turns back to Jesus.

Thank you Wretchard for the post. It is soaked with history.

10/29/2007 03:08:00 AM  
Blogger Wadeusaf said...

Reading the story from the Telegraph I am tempted to toss it off as old news wrapped around a new head line. The British strategy was fraught with uncertainty and showed uneven from day one. So it is not too surprising that it did not take hold. Any political solution now will likely be frustrated by competing militias and a competing government. It would be here that a Hesballa style of operation would be most frustrating, and little wonder that recent reports spout Iranian interests in that area as well.

Michael Yon has described the area a little differently. While others, writing first hand accounts on the subject, tend to agree with Yon. Essentially stating that while the area is peaceful it is by no means pacified.

There is trouble brewing in Basra, and the resolution of it is going to be tough AND it is long overdue. I hope Malaki and the IA are up to the task. I believe it will be viewed as the first real test of Iraq's democracy, and its ability to fend off unwanted advances from the neighbors and illegal activities on the part of Southern Shi'a Militias.

10/29/2007 03:20:00 AM  
Blogger Kevin said...

The British approach in Basra and the American in Al Anbar is exactly the same: namely, to stop trying to impose their will on the local population. It is not quite the same as surrendering, but it is in military terms clearly a defeat since the invading power has abandoned its efforts to impose its will on the local subjects.

The major difference between the two outcomes has been the political spin placed on it. The British in Basra have only put in the slightest propaganda efforts to make it anything more than what it obviously is; defeat. The Americans have, in contrast, cleverly played up the fact that since the local tribes no longer need help from Al Qaida, the tribes are naturally turning against them and this is a victory for America and justification for the entire Iraq War. Since so many commentators in the US are confused as to what the fundamental goal of military actions typically is (the imposition of the will of one political entity upon another) many uncritically accept the notion of a victory over Al Qaida. But this ignores the fact that at the beginning of the invasion there was little to no Al Qaida presence but now Iraq is very likely an enduring third base (after Pakistan and Saudi Arabia) for Al Qaida. Not to mention that the stated goal for the invasion of Iraq was to build a democracy that could serve as an example to other nations in the region. The victory of the Sunni insurgents (now marketed as tribes) over US forces now means that there is no chance the current Iraqi government will survive for long as a viable force. It only brings us one step closer to a resumption of the pre-war status quo, a Sunni dictator ruling all of Iraq. As tensions build between the US and Iran on a regional level, the logical result will be a strengthening of US support to the Sunni tribes and a growing enmity towards the current central government in Baghdad, which in turn will only push it closer to Iran, which in turn will be its ruin.

10/29/2007 04:01:00 AM  
Blogger Shawn said...

British tactics in Iraq ALWAYS favoured a minimalist approach and letting the Iraqi's find their own political solution. That was something they bragged about openly, and reflects the "Terrorism is a police problem" approach they developed in Malaya in the 1950's.

The army in Northern Ireland, for example, had no greater powers than the police, and was only used because the police force was both too small and too partisan (they responded to catholic civil rights marches by driving armoured cars through catholic areas and firing machineguns into the houses, for example).

There was for example a gloating tv news item a year or two ago showing British soldiers patroling in Basrah in berets and without helmets, with everyone smiling at them amid comments about the "inevitable failure of the brutal American tactics in Anbar and their attempts to impose their values."

Letting the Iraqis work it out for themselves was stated to be the heart of the approach. It was mentioned that this involved letting Al Sadr and Co take over but this was not seen as a very serious problem.

Well, maybe there will be less bragging about "our victory in Malaya Vs the American failure in Vietnam" after this anyway.

10/29/2007 06:16:00 AM  
Blogger BrianFH said...

Kevin goes thru some painful contortions to force events into their predetermined box: America is f'd up and its efforts will be exposed for the delusions and evil they are by the Will of the Indigenes.
Kevin is no more capable of understanding what Petraeus is up to than a 5-yr old can understand the operation of the Playstation his gramma bought him for his birthday.

The Irish analogy was always flawed by the missing component: 30 years of tough fighting against urban guerrillas. Not to mention the limits the IRA placed on its own attacks on civilians.

11/01/2007 06:51:00 AM  
Blogger BetaCygni said...

I expect the surge to keep going south until Basra is included and the militias will be marginalized. Hopefully by then it will almost all Iraqi troops.

11/01/2007 03:32:00 PM  

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