Foreign Policy Blogs

Basra's continuing deterioration, Part II

In Part One, I discussed the likelihood of the British contingent staying on in Basra past their pull-out dates because of continuing instability in the province and city.

The big parties that are fighting for dominance are the Fadhila party (a smaller Shi’ite party), the Sadrists, and the followers of the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council and Abdel Aziz al-Hakim. Fadhila's Muhammed al-Waeli is governor of Basra.

Basra is located in southern Iraq, and is important for many reasons. It is a port city, with the Umm Qasr port being the country's only gateway into the Persian Gulf. Also, it is sitting on massive oil reserves, mostly untapped. It is a flower waiting to bloom. Control over Basra does and will continue to have far-reaching ramifications for Iraq and the Middle East as a whole. Sam Dagher for the Christian Science Monitor has done a wonderful article detailing the intricacies of the vacuum that has opened up since the fall of Saddam. Basra's port is not very efficient, it needs massive reconstruction to be working at full capacity. Basically, Basra is a huge prize. It has oil, it has Iraq's only port, it is providing massive amounts of money to the central government, and right now, it is under the control of the militias.

The violence towards the British and the violence towards ordinary residents rivals that of Baghdad and Mosul. Many of the jobs at the port (a major source of employment) are controlled by the Shi’ite militias in local government and are given to those who join the militias. They regularly hold oil production hostage if their demands are not met. Recently, some high ranking Iraqi officials visited the port city in attempt to assess the situation, encourage more investment, and to bring the city under control. It warranted a piece in the New York Times about two weeks ago, and the officials interviewed for the article were quite vague on the details of the offensive that the Independent's piece mentioned. Deputy Prime Minister Barhem Salih said that the Iraqi troops would lead the charge and that a strong military presence was needed to force out the militants. We are now seeing the beginning of the offensive, much earlier than the vaguely posited 'this summer’. As Iraq's National Security Adviser Mowaffak al-Rubaie said recently, "Whoever gets in the way will be dealt with swiftly, decisively and with no mercy."