Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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December 17, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

BASRA....The British handed control of Basra over to the Iraqis yesterday, and here's what the local police chief told the LA Times about the transfer:

Maj. Gen. Abdul Jalil Khalaf, police commander of Basra, said he did not expect an escalation in violence because Iraqi forces have been in control of the city since Britain started its troop pullout in September.

...."There are no militias controlling the streets of Basra anymore," Khalaf said. "Now, only the law and security forces have control over the streets."

That sounds hopeful. But here's what the very same police chief told the Guardian:

"They left me militia, they left me gangsters, and they left me all the troubles in the world," he said in an interview for Guardian Films and ITV....In the film, to be broadcast on the Guardian Unlimited website and ITV News, Khalaf lists a catalogue of failings, saying:

  • Basra has become so lawless that in the last three months 45 women have been killed for being "immoral" because they were not fully covered or because they may have given birth outside wedlock;

  • The British unintentionally rearmed Shia militias by failing to recognise that Iraqi troops were loyal to more than one authority;

  • Shia militia are better armed than his men and control Iraq's main port.

In the interview he said the main problem the Iraqi security forces now faced was the struggle to wrest control back from the militia.

So what's the story? Do militias control Basra or not? I can't say for sure, but here's one hint: even in the optimistic LA Times story, there's a telling note: "The fact that the [handover] ceremony was held not in the city, but in an airport lounge with signs for 'international baggage claim' and 'passport control' leading to the venue, underscored the state of security in town." Indeed.

Kevin Drum 12:09 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (11)

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The old exit strategy--declare victory and leave.

It will be another hell-hole that will be little mentioned in the news. All we did was remove a central government that had minimal control and replaced it with a war-lord system that has strict control over the daily lives of the people. There is no recourse to even a weak central government.

Thanks for pushing the lives of Iraqis back 150 years Mr. Bush and Mr. Blair.

Posted by: Neal on December 17, 2007 at 12:21 PM | PERMALINK

I saw the Guardian story this morning. I'm sure it's closer to the truth, and not just something for American consumption.

Posted by: SocraticGadfly on December 17, 2007 at 12:25 PM | PERMALINK

Until and unless US officials are able to stop making unannounced visits to Iraq and can publicize them in advance, all the claims of "progress" are meaningless.

Posted by: Gregory on December 17, 2007 at 12:26 PM | PERMALINK

Sky News

The British presence in and around Basra City has dwindled to virtually nothing since they withdrew from their Palace base in September.

Their presence antagonised the various Shia militia groups that have divided up the city over the past two years. As a result they were bombed and shot at on a daily basis.

In what soldiers here call the "accommodation" the British withdrew to their base at Basra airport and observed a so-called "no-go zone" around central Basra.

In return, the intensity of the attacks was hugely reduced, although rockets still pound the base from time to time. Thirteen were fired at the camp on a single day in the run-up to the handover ceremony.

Accommodations and no-go zones are terms dismissed by military spokesmen when questioned, but they are the terms the soldiers use - and they do not make them up.

The official line is that the army's mentoring, monitoring and training programme for their Iraqi counterparts and the British-assisted creation of institutions of good governance - local councils, for example - have created the climate for a safe handover and a peaceful Basra.

UK military spokesman Major Mike Shearer told Sky News: "For the first time we are going to see Iraqi solutions to Iraqi problems."

He insisted that any intervention by British forces would be "tempered assistance" and not initially "troops and boots back on the streets".

Iraqi soldiers have been training prior to the handover. Things are so good apparently that by spring the contingent of soldiers can be reduced from 4,500 to 2,500. They will remain with the ability to intervene if necessary but only at the invitation of the provincial administration.

But are conditions in Basra really that stable? It is widely reported that women's rights are being withdrawn virtually on a daily basis while the militia groups and criminal gangs, eager to reap the benefits of Basra's economic potential, are in control.

The Commons Defence Committee suggests there may be an appearance of security because things are calm but says the root causes of the violence have not been tackled.

When asked if conditions in the city are better or worse than when the British first rolled into town at the end of the war in 2003 and patrolled in berets, one senior officer here said only this: "I really couldn't answer that."

Posted by: Neal on December 17, 2007 at 12:30 PM | PERMALINK

No one knows what will happen. The only thing the removal of the British troops means is that England will not be participating in any violence, which is a very good thing for them and the Iraqis.

Posted by: Brojo on December 17, 2007 at 12:41 PM | PERMALINK

For Britons this is the end of a tragedy in five acts. One they would happily forget. Only sophists can find a positive note amid the ruin and desolation. The British feel swindled by this whole operation. The shameful lies and distortions that led them into war were followed by crude brutality sanctioned by Americans at the highest level. Far from making the trains run on time American leadership, betrayed by Dick Cheney and the other incompetents, was reduced to stupefying mismanagement that resulted in the collapse of the country with spreading economic and political anarchy. All this at an equally stupefying cost.

We are a long way off from Roosevelt's America.

Posted by: bellumregio on December 17, 2007 at 1:22 PM | PERMALINK

To make a comparison: Recently Alan Greenspan said that propping up mortgage lenders would only lengthen the time it takes to recover from our current credit crisis. In Iraq the longer we prop up anyone the longer it will take for us to get out and them to properly recover.

Edwards for President -- Leadership out of Iraq and to a better American future!

Posted by: MarkH on December 17, 2007 at 1:30 PM | PERMALINK

Only sophists can find a positive note amid the ruin and desolation.

So true, and descriptive of just about every wingnut post here and everywhere on Iraq.

"Did you know they're a democracy now? One of the only in the Middle East!"

Posted by: trex on December 17, 2007 at 1:48 PM | PERMALINK

Pt of info: the Brits aren't pulling out yet; they merely transfered official control of Basra to the Iraq authorities.

And as to why the different spins? 1) if Iraqi officials wish to maintain general US support, they have to talk up how much better things are now in the US press; and 2) if Iraqi officials want the Brits to hang around awhile to help them out, they have to talk up how dangerous things still are in the UK press.

Posted by: Disputo on December 17, 2007 at 3:05 PM | PERMALINK

"Basra has become so lawless that in the last three months 45 women have been killed for being "immoral" because they were not fully covered or because they may have given birth outside wedlock;"

That doesn't sound lawless at all! It just sounds like different laws and procedures. Or "Iraqi solutions to Iraqi problems."

We kill people for our own reasons, usually having to do with our own ideas about morality.

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