Foreign Policy Blogs

Continuing Battle for the South: Basra

According to several media reports, the battle of Basra is NOT going well. Just a few hours ago, militants blew up a crude oil pipeline. An act of retaliation, this is part of a tenacious fight that the Sadrists are putting up in the south of the country. The Iraqi and US forces have a lot riding on this operation. The Iraqi government and security forces want to prove that they can plan and execute an operation of this magnitude, while the US needs to win the perception war back home. They need to prove to the US populace that there has been some progress after it was universally acknowledged a couple of weeks ago that the political deadlock is far from being broken.

James Glanz has an excellent piece in the NYT detailing the assault. A very important point that was posited by Mr. Glanz is that the central government's security forces are supposed to be working with the local security police force (about 16,000 of them), which have been known to have direct links with militias, and in most cases, infiltrated by them. This is a point acknowledged by the chief of police of Basra, Major General Khalaf, who has been working tirelessly to rid the police force of its sectarian infighting. He has survived at least two attempts on his life since being appointed less than a year ago.
Although Maliki's government's official line is that they are not targeting just one militia, the general consensus is that the Mahdi Army of Moqtada Al-Sadr is the main focus of the clean out. The Mahdi Army still controls many neighborhoods, and most of the casualties over the course of the offensive have been civilians. Civilians have been trapped in their houses since the operation's start and are growing frustrated with the violence. Since Sadr has withdrawn from the coalition, PM Maliki can go after them without fear of losing his support in government. Below is an informative piece by Al Jazeera English on the particulars of the situation. [kml_flashembed movie="" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]