Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Withdrawing from Basra

(24 Nov) Kate Clark reports that Basra now is like living under a Shi'a Taliban. She should know: she used to be the BBC's correspondent in Afghanistan under the Taliban (File on 4: Inside Basra: Tuesday 2 October 2007).  A full transcript of the programme (74k) is now available.

Yahia Sayid (an expert on Iraq and oil at the London School of Economics):
The pursuit of oil money even as a way of financing the insurgency, with time becomes a goal in and of itself. The criminal activity takes over the political fight eventually. But it’s always mixed in, because you need, if you like, the moral justification, the political justification to sustain the interests of your foot soldiers. It’s never quite possible to just be a thief. ... Oil is both a fuel to the conflict and a prize to be won by the winners.(p12)
The police chief is forced to rely on the support of his tribe in his efforts to purge police who are corrupt and beholden to militias. (p11) She asks a Norwegian expert (Reider Visser) whether it would have been possible to have done it differently, not relying on the militia. Yes, but that would have required more forces. The British spokesman puts his faith in the national police (p16; other reports from around Iraq suggest that local police are less corrupt than the national police). 'Most Basrawis feel bitterly disappointed about the British, but almost all want them to stay' (p18).
[T]he British are pleased that their withdrawal to the airport went smoothly, although it’s alleged that only happened because they did a deal with the Mahdi Army and released many of its prisoners. (p17 - cf Panorama 10 Dec, R4 Today - 0700-0730 at 0714 )
Now parts of the media are waking up to the fact that British withdrawal may be leaving behind a mess in Basra. This, of course, comes after years when the only question has been, 'when do we withdraw?'

In Part 2 of her report for Panorama (17 Dec), Jane Corbin makes a telling point: "further north, the Americans took on the [Shi'a] militias, but the British lacked the manpower and the political will to do this." (my emphasis)

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