Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

When US withdraws from Iraq

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Of course, the US will not withdraw from Iraq while Bush is president: he’s absolutely determined to leave this problem to the next president. But when we do withdraw, what will happen? Perhaps Basra offers a clue:

What does the phased British withdrawal from Basra, begun in the fall, say about the viability of a broader withdrawal of forces from Iraq?

In part, the question is hard to answer: I have had difficulty locating reliable news stories written after December. If any readers care to pass on links, that would help a great deal. Of course, the lack of news in itself may be a good sign: if full-scale genocide or civil war had broken out in Basra, we would likely be hearing about it. On the other hand, one hopes that we would hear about astonishing success as well. The reality may be that the outcome is still mixed.

Throughout the fall, conflicting reports emerged about Basra.

In early August, the Washington Post said the situation was “deteriorating” as British forces left:

As British forces pull back from Basra in southern Iraq, Shiite militias there have escalated a violent battle against each other for political supremacy and control over oil resources, deepening concerns among some U.S. officials in Baghdad that elements of Iraq’s Shiite-dominated national government will turn on one another once U.S. troops begin to draw down.

Three major Shiite political groups are locked in a bloody conflict that has left the city in the hands of militias and criminal gangs, whose control extends to municipal offices and neighborhood streets. The city is plagued by “the systematic misuse of official institutions, political assassinations, tribal vendettas, neighborhood vigilantism and enforcement of social mores, together with the rise of criminal mafias that increasingly intermingle with political actors,” a recent report by the International Crisis Group said.

In September, Irin News reported that many Basra residents feared civil war between militia groups:

“Basra is still in a very delicate security situation,” said Barak Hussein, media officer for the locally-based South Peace Organisation (SPO). “They are leaving the city in the hands of local security forces but these are not prepared to assume all responsibilities, especially with so many different militias in the area.” According to Iraqi military sources, British troops at the palace have been facing up to 60 mortar attacks a day.

By October, however, different reports were emerging. Reuters reported that Basra was quieting down:

Residents of Iraq’s southern city of Basra have begun strolling riverfront streets again after four years of fear, their city much quieter since British troops withdrew from the grand Saddam Hussein-era Basra Palace.

Political assassinations and sectarian violence continue, some city officials say, but on a much smaller scale than at any time since British troops moved into the city after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.

Mortar rounds, rockets and small arms fire crashed almost daily into the palace, making life hazardous for British and Iraqis alike in Iraq’s second-largest city. To many Basrans the withdrawal of the British a month ago removed a proven target.

“The situation these days is better. We were living in hell … the area is calm since their withdrawal,” said housewife Khairiya Salman, who lives near the palace.

In November, the International Herald Tribune announced that violence had fallen to one tenth of its pre-withdrawal levels. As British forces prepared for their final pullout in December, however, fears of militia turf wars surfaced again, as well as reports that conditions for women were becoming more difficult in the city.

And then, I have to say again, the story drops off. Juan Cole covers some of the day to day news coming out of Basra, such as the recent killing of a tribal sheikh, but broader analysis of the present situation seems to be largely unavailable. Based on that, I would reiterate my initial speculation: that the situation is not a perfect success, but neither is it an unmitigated disaster. In fact, it may even be going well on the whole. At any rate, it seems that Basra has gone at least as well – if not better – than areas where US forces have “surged.” To me, this provides tentative confirmation that withdrawal from Iraq would not precipitate immediate and disastrous civil war. Nor would it necessarily provoke greater violence than currently occurs in US-controlled areas.

As stated, I would greatly welcome any insights or links from readers. The situation in Basra is an extremely important piece of the puzzle as America continues to contemplate its role in Iraq. This is even more critical if Basra can offer a model for how to end an immoral, illegal, and disastrous war.

Written by Leisureguy

30 January 2008 at 9:57 am

Posted in Iraq War

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