Tag Archives: Basra

From Fighting To Building, Says Petraeus

In an end-of-the-year letter to his troops, General Petraeus told them military factors had significantly improved which allows a new focus on nation building. He urged the troops to work on helping Iraqis obtain jobs, revitalize markets, build schools and provide needed services. At present the inhabitants of Baghdad are only obtaining enough electricity 11 hours out of the day which is not sufficient for develop a vibrant economy. Petraeus also believes the United States must urge political reform on the Iraqi government. However, the commander also recognized there are many military problems such as growing militancy in north Iraq as insurgents have left the city of Baghdad to fight elsewhere.

For some unusual reason, Petraeus did not focus on the deteriorating situation in south Iraq where Basra has now virtually become a city controlled by competing militia groups. There is something ironic in this letter. Years ago President Bush and his administration was urged by Middle Eastern experts to focus on political reform and exploring alternative solutions to the wide differences between Sunni and Shiites in Iraq, but these ideas were brushed aside in the euphoria of overthrowing Saddam Hussein. General Petraeus means well, but it doesn’t make sense to ask American troops to deal with political issues, such action depends upon an Iraqi Shiite government which intends to pursue policies that block Sunnis and to maintain control. Frankly, after four years, the reality is that Iraq is still a divided nation which would probably benefit more from a federal structure in which Sunnis govern Sunnis, Shiites govern themselves, and Kurds continue their independent process of governing.

At no place in his letter does General Petraeus deal with the growing loss of power faced by Iraqi women living in a fundamentalist Muslim nation that is the outgrowth of the destruction of the Saddam Hussein dictatorship. Hundreds of thousands of Christians have fled and will probably never return. Secular Iraqis have been crushed by a government which allows fundamentalists to govern and impose their will upon the population. How can American troops deal with such conditions?

Britain Leaves Basra But Basra Has Problems

British troops have occupied the Basra area since early stages of thee Iraq war. They now have handed over control of the city to local Iraqi forces without receiving much thanks from those who now are responsible for controlling the city. The new police commander, General Jalil Khalaf bitterly complained the British occupation and departure left him with a situation close to mayhem. “They left me militia, they left me gangsters, and they left me all the troubles in the world.” The British government insists the turnover was timely and appropriate, but that is apparently not the view of Iraqi leaders. British General Graham Binns, claimed the situation was OK, and “I came to rid Basra of its enemies and I now formally hand Basra back to its friends.”

His “friend,” Khalaf, has a different version of the situation. During the past three months, 45 women have been killed for being “immoral” due to lacking the correct hair covering. Shia militia are better armed than the police force. His main problem is now recovering control of the town from the militia which was armed by the British. Khalaf believes the British meant well, but their actions only increased violence by allowing extremist groups to gain access to arms and not sufficiently providing sufficient arms and equipment to the police. He showed reporters a list of 48 women who were killed because they had been in an adulterous relationship. Even as he spoke, violence continued in what was supposedly peaceful Basra.

British Forces Turn Over Basra Control To Iraq Government

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown made a trip to Basra in Iraq to formalize handing over control of the city and area to Iraqi forces. He commented, “not that violence has ended, but we are able to move to provincial Iraqi control.” Brown contacted Prime Minister Maliki who was pleased that within two weeks, Iraqi forces would be in control of the area. However, Basra’s chief of police, Jalil Khalaf, was still uncertain if his forces could manage ensuring security for the area.

British troops are in the process of completely evacuating the area and allowing Iraq police and soldiers to handle security. In a sense, it is good news that Iraq feels confident it can handle security issues, but, the bad news is what happens when British troops are complete withdrawn? Will there be new outbreaks of violence? Have Sunni and Shiites been able to agree on issues in order to ensure that both groups feel comfortable with the Shiite government in control? There are as many questions as answers in the rather complex problem of how to withdraw without opening the doors to renewed violence.

Is Iraq Coalition Of The Willing Not Willing?

Foreign Minister Schwarzenberg of the Czech Republic indicated his support to withdraw their troops from the present mission of protecting Basra. The British are pulling out of the area which leaves Czech troops in a rather untenable position. The foreign minister is part of a coalition government and his Green Party is hostile to the Iraq war. The Czech Republic parliament has voted to extend the presence of their armed forces for several more months. However, Schwarzenberg and his party appear interested in ending the Iraq commitment.

Withdrawal of the massive Czech Republic contingent of 100 troops might result in disastrous consequences for the entire Iraq venture. One by one the coalition of the willing is unwinding as nations in the world grow to realize they were suckered into a war that could not be won by a president who doesn’t have a clue how to successfully conduct foreign policy.

US Prevented British Pullout From Basra In March

According to senior British military sources, their troops were prevented from pulling out of Basra in March due to American pressure. “The decision to stay on was made in London, it was a political and not a logistical one. The Americans flatly refused to pull out their consulate and it was them informing us that they intended to send down a brigade which decided matters in London.” The British government had concluded earlier this year the presence of its troops in Basra increased rather than decreased violence in the area. They thought outside forces created a rationale for Shiite militia to fight and hoped by withdrawing fighting and violence would decrease. American military leaders insisted withdrawal would open the way for Iranian agents and al-Qaeda to enter the area.

It is somewhat ironic that Bush continues asserting we must turn over control to Iraq forces but he opposes an example of local Iraq forces being given an opportunity to handle the situation. Perhaps, a reason the United States opposed British withdrawal was it might set an example to justify arguments of opponents of the current Iraq policy who claim the United States must get out of Iraq. Bush continues using the al-Qaeda and Iran argument to justify America’s presence in Iraq.