The "Men in Black" vanish and people emerge
The Times Online reports that there's a new sheriff in Basra town.
Young women are daring to wear jeans, soldiers listen to pop music on their mobile phones and bands are performing at wedding parties again.
All across Iraq’s second city life is improving, a month after Iraqi troops began a surprise crackdown on the black-clad gangs who were allowed to flourish under the British military. The gunmen’s reign had enforced a strict set of religious codes.
Unlikely as it sounds, the Iraqi Army has succeeded where the British Army failed. And the question is why? First, the Iraqi Army has the numbers the British could never have. Second, being a largely Shi'ite force (albeit with a significant Kurdish component and some Sunnis) it was "local". Third, it was backed by American combat power. This last cannot be underestimated. The most potent forms of force on the battlefield are from support weapons like UAVs, helicopters, aircraft and artillery. A unit's small arms make up maybe 15% of all the lethality it can dispose of. The 85% comes from supporting fires. So with American fire support behind it the Iraqis were very nearly as lethal as the British when the enemy chose to stand and fight. The Times story continues:
Raids are continuing in a few remaining strongholds but the Iraqi commander in charge of the unprecedented operation is confident that his forces will soon achieve something that the British military could not – a city free from rogue gunmen. ...
The security forces have also torn down many banners supporting al-Mahdi Army as well as portraits of its leader, Moqtada al-Sadr, though some still remain in militia strongholds.
The contrast could not be more stark with the last time The Times visited Basra in December, when intimidation was rife.
Many blame the British for allowing the militias to grow. “If they sent competent Iraqi troops to Basra in the early stages it would have limited the damage that happened in our city,” said Hameed Hashim, 39, who works for the South Oil Company.
As a man once said, "yes we can".
Meanwhile, Moqtada al-Sadr has said he's not going to fight. The LA Times has a story headlined, "Iraq cleric Muqtada Sadr says truce still stands". The question is, does he have a choice?
BAGHDAD -- Radical cleric Muqtada Sadr reminded his followers Friday to observe a truce that has been nearing collapse, pulling back from a showdown against fellow Shiite Muslims in the Iraqi government.
In a statement read in mosques during Friday prayers, Sadr said his recent threat of "open war" was aimed only at U.S.-led forces and urged his followers not to fight Iraqi troops. He also urged the Iraqi police and army "to be close to their people and far from the occupier, because we will not be blessed with peace as long as they occupy our land."
Maybe Sadr hasn't got the word. Those of his militias which are considered "rogue" are to turn in their guns and put their hands on their heads. But maybe Sadr is making these inutile pronouncements so that pundits in the West can say that Basra was cleared because "Sadr let them". Or maybe an alternative story line is that Basra is being cleared because the Iranians 'are demonstrating how they can turn the violence on and off any time they choose'. Sure.
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