Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Basra example does not bode well for “surge” in Iraq

The current U.S. surge strategy was based somewhat on what the British had done with Operation Sinbad in southern Iraq. Operation Sinbad was the military campaign led by the British focusing on Basra, the nation’s second largest city. The operation began on September 27, 2006 and concluded February 18, 2007. The goal was to stabilize Basra so local officials could use the time to rebuild. The operation was a success – temporarily. Within months the situation had returned to its previous state according to a report by the International Crisis Group.

According to today’s Washington Post, the situation in Basra is deteriorating even more:
After Saddam Hussein was overthrown in April 2003, British forces took control of the region, and the cosmopolitan port city of Basra thrived with trade, arts and universities. As recently as February, Vice President Cheney hailed Basra as a part of Iraq "where things are going pretty well."

But "it's hard now to paint Basra as a success story," said a senior U.S. official in Baghdad with long experience in the south. Instead, it has become a different model, one that U.S. officials with experience in the region are concerned will be replicated throughout the Iraqi Shiite homeland from Baghdad to the Persian Gulf. A recent series of war games commissioned by the Pentagon also warned of civil war among Shiites after a reduction in U.S. forces.

For the past four years, the administration's narrative of the Iraq war has centered on al-Qaeda, Iran and the sectarian violence they have promoted. But in the homogenous south -- where there are virtually no U.S. troops or al-Qaeda fighters, few Sunnis, and by most accounts limited influence by Iran -- Shiite militias fight one another as well as British troops. A British strategy launched last fall to reclaim Basra neighborhoods from violent actors -- similar to the current U.S. strategy in Baghdad -- brought no lasting success.
As Juan Cole puts it, “What most American observers do not realize is that as Basra goes, so goes Iraq.”

According to Max Weber, “… a state is a human community that (successfully) claims the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force within a given territory.” By that definition, the state of Iraq does not exist. As it stands now ordinary citizens are forced to seek protection from various militias because their government cannot protect them.

The point here is that any military success by outside forces will only be temporary. Whatever resolution there is to the conflict in Iraq is political. The Maliki government is paralyzed as the country sufferes. The leadership of the various factions need to come together in agreement on the distribution of power. If that is not possible then consideration should be given to partition of the country as the Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia, and Yugoslavia did during the past two decades. Partition presents very real problems also but right now there are no perfect solutions. The violence can only end with political stability and political stability cannot begin until there is political interaction and agreement between a majority of the leadership of Iraq's various factions.

1 comment:

Comrade Kevin said...

So long as two contradictory threads of Islam are hellbent on fighting it out to the death, I don't see any sort of reconciliation in the cards.

Saddam Hussein proved, as do all dictators, that people will keep the peace so long as they fear for their lives. Without that presence, Iraq was bound to head into chaos.

I'm reminded of something Robert McNamara mentioned. He met with an envoy of the North Vietnamese years after the Vietnam War had concluded. The envoy informed McNamara that the reason the Viet Cong had fought so desperately against superior numbers of American troops is that they saw their struggle as a movement for their own liberation, and no amount of bombing or warfare would have gotten them to stop fighting. Indeed, their mentality was that they would literally fight to the last man standing.

I feel that's the sort of mentality we're confronting in Iraq, and so long as that is firmly in place, we can not win.