Six weeks ago, I wrote that Basra would become a real problem for the Iraqi government. In this morning’s New York Times, the seat of the pants operating style of Prime Minister Maliki was revealed to be at the heart of the disaster last week in Iraq’s southern city.

Interviews with a wide range of American and military officials also suggest that Mr. Maliki overestimated his military’s abilities and underestimated the scale of the resistance. The Iraqi prime minister also displayed an impulsive leadership style that did not give his forces or that of his most powerful allies, the American and British military, time to prepare.

“He went in with a stick and he poked a hornet’s nest, and the resistance he got was a little bit more than he bargained for,” said one official in the multinational force in Baghdad who requested anonymity.

So why did Maliki rush this operation without informing either his American protectors or the rest of his government? Because this was not a government security operation, but rather a political hit job on a rival faction.

 While restoring order was his stated goal, he asserted, the Iraqi leader was also eager to weaken the Mahdi Army and the affiliated political party of the renegade cleric Moktada al-Sadr before provincial elections in the south that are expected to be to be held this year.

Maliki’s subsequent retreat from Basra, and the “cease fire” engineered with al-Sadr, probably encamped in Tehran, proves the Democratic point that there is no willingness on the part of the Iraqi’s to engage in serious political reconciliation. As Zbiginiew Brzezinski wrote last week,

In this context, so highly reminiscent of the British colonial era, the longer we stay in Iraq, the less incentive various contending groups will have to compromise and the more reason simply to sit back. A serious dialogue with the Iraqi leaders about the forthcoming U.S. disengagement would shake them out of their stupor.

In 1920 the Great British Orientalist, T.E. Lawrence told the Times of London, “The people of England have been led in Mesopotamia into a trap which it will be hard to escape with dignity and honour. They have been tricked into it by a steady withholding of information.” The UK spent four fruitless decades in that trap, with nothing to show for it in the end. How can John McCain convince us that our experience will be any different?

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0 Responses to FUBAR in BASRA

  1. Morgan Warstler says:

    John McCain can’t really convince you. The progress has to made by the Iraqis, no?

    I think everyone agrees on that.

    So what can the Iraqis do to convince you? Lets assume they want your blessing on progress being made there…

    What would have been a better outcome? One side slaughtering the other? I think it might have helped Al Sadr gain more control over his “criminal elements” – the even more radical jihadis. There aren’t non-army patrolling gangs anymore right? If there are gangs on the street they are able to be attacked by the Army right?

    I realize Al Sadr says he wants us to leave, but not so much he didn’t get word to Petraeus that he couldn’t control his extremist guys.

    Why don’t you expect this to lead to Maliki and Al Sadr finding some common ground on the Shiite side?

  2. Dan says:

    They’re not finding common ground, they’ve simply declared a momentary truce. Al Maliki’s adventure was a complete failure, from what I’ve read. He was damaging al Sadr but damaging himself even worse.

    All he needs now is a flight suit, an aircraft carrier and a “MISSION ACCOMPLISHED” banner.

  3. Clayton says:

    Morgan, what des progress in Basra look like?

    You do realize Maliki has political ties to the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council who’s backed by Tehran just like the Sadrists?

  4. Morgan Warstler says:

    Yes, this conflict is two sides of Shiites, each backed by their own factions in Iran.

    Both though, have nationalistic elements to them, neither wants to be controlled by Iran. This isn’t everybody against the US. The weaker side, Maliki who ran for office to gain a foothold of power, won an election, and since another southern election is coming up, there was some saber rattling by both sides.

    All of this, compounded by Sunnis and Kurds. It seems better than before though. Iraq doesn’t seem more fragile to me because of Basra, it seems more resilient.

    I’d say progress in Basra is when the oil is flowing. Everyday it flows, everybody gets their piece, and fighting subsides to commerce.

    It reminds me very much of the TV show Deadwood.

  5. jan sutherland says:


    Best laugh I’ve had all day.

  6. clayton says:

    So in sum, a weaker group of Shiites has employed the Iraqi armed forces and Coalition air support and logistics in a pretty big offensive (saber rattling?) against a popular Iran-backed group. Sure seems like we’re headed in the right direction.

  7. rhb says:

    McCain has to convince no one. It appears that the general populace only know the sort of stuff that the picture you chose shows them. Masked terrorists just like Bush and the Homeland Security department have been telling them to be afraid of are everywhere. Those who opposed the war then, who oppose it now, don’t need to be told the reasons that the war must go on. They have heard them and rejected them. Those that agree with the war or see it as a responsibilty that must be fulfilled know why they feel/think that way and need nothing said either. The free marketeers love their Deadwood life style and McCain already assured them by hugging Bush that the money will (read oil profits) keep on flowing through our wonderfully resilient American economy. Ignorance and brutality win again. Oils more important than the continued but not really observed collateral damage. My friends, . . .

  8. Morgan Warstler says:

    Jan, thats what I’m here for!

    Clayton, Huh? This is both sides posturing for an election. Which is political progess, ugly-true, but they are voting. With Obama in place, we’re there for the next 10 years… we better be looking for one hundred 1% improvements – we need lots of elections. And if you are feeling down, just think about all that oil.

  9. Hugo says:


    Had Maliki ordered forces to take and hold Basra at record speed and with impossibly minimal losses to his forces, and to take the militia forces prisoner, and to capture al Sadr for trial while capturing or killing his subordinates—had he so ordered, and had they achieved all of these objectives with distinction, then he might want to hang out a banner for them declaring, “Mission Accomplished!” and to honor their courage and professionalism.

    Let’s hope that he can do such a thing very soon.

  10. Jon Taplin says:

    Morgan & Hugo-You are both projecting imaginary outcomes. Hugo at least admits his is imaginary. Your imagination flourishes without admitting you are in fantasy land. Barack will not be in Iraq (except to protect the Embassy) in 10 years. You assume all that Iraqi oil is going to flow into American hands. You assume there will be lots of Iraqi elections (and not the rise of a Shia Strongman)

    Gotta go with RHB on this one-“Ignorance and Brutality win again.”

  11. Dan says:

    To say that a military success by the faction that we’re currently backing would be evidence of courage and professionalism would be false in my opinion.

    Establishing peace without implementing an autocratic reign of terror and genuinely seeking to build a stable state that benefits all of the people in Iraq (to whatever degree that’s possible) would be evidence of courage and professionalism.

    Personally, I don’t see Maliki and his faction doing that any time soon. His clumsy, ham-fisted “take-charge” manner is too distinctly reminiscent of Saddam. It looks to me like his mission is “win at all costs”. What comes after victory is a big question mark; but my hunch is that it won’t be pretty.

  12. Hugo says:

    Dan, I was just stealing your analog. As you were toying with the invasion to make a point about Basra, I was toying with Basra to make a point about the actual “Mission Accomplished”: that it was well accomplished indeed. The invasion for regime change, and the occupation, are militarily two quite different things. The one was executed so well as to put our adversaries, and China, on notice; the other was a botch job.

    Military scientists will record that no military in the world, least of all Iraq’s, could have accomplished the mission as well as the U.S.-led forces did. That accomplishment merited more than a thank-you atop a flight deck.

  13. Morgan Warstler says:

    “On Iraq specifically, you heard all three of those candidates say they are going to get all troops out of Iraq within a year of taking office — other than those necessary to guard the embassy. In September, I asked if they would make a pledge to withdraw all troops by the end of their first term: None of them would say it. And they tried to today say, ‘Well, what we were talking was this small reserve force.’ I thought the emphasis was much different tonight.”


    “In September, we were in New Hampshire together, and I asked the three of you if you would pledge to have all troops out of Iraq by the end of your first term. All three of you said: you will not take that pledge. I’m hearing something much different tonight.” In response, Obama said, “No, no, no. There’s nothing different, Tim.” Obama went on to explain that he would “maintain some troop presence” in Iraq — not only to “guard our embassy,” as Russert claimed — but also to “protect our civilians … engaged in humanitarian activity” and to “allow us to strike if Al Qaeda is creating bases inside of Iraq”

  14. Jon Taplin says:

    Hugo-It looks like there wasn’t much bravery on the part of some Iraqi commanders.

    Tribe trumps state in Mesopotamia.

  15. Hugo says:

    That’s EXACTLY why U.S. forces do not deserve to be compared to them, as in:

    “Al Maliki’s adventure was a complete failure…All he needs now is a flight suit, an aircraft carrier and a ‘MISSION ACCOMPLISHED’ banner.” [Dan, April 3, 10:40 a.m.]

    I was ribbing Dan about the gauche comparison while pointing out how extremely far short of America’s performance Maliki’s forces fell, and suddenly I find myself expected to defend Maliki and his men. I still have no idea why.

    Oh, well. I should just accept that it’s Open Season on the U.S. military once again on the home front. At least we should get some good music out of this movement nostalgia…

  16. rhb says:

    oxymoronic = “military scientists”

    Our claim to victory in Iraq was comparable to Britain’s win over the Falkland Islands. Build them up to knock them down and then increase the “defense budget”. It’s a strategy those scientists have been praising since Ceasar was a pup.

  17. Hugo says:


    Do you suppose Beijing would agree with your analysis of our ruse de guerre in Iraq—assuming that China continues to teach military science, as it has done for at least 1,500 years?

  18. Dan says:

    I wasn’t comparing Iraqi military forces to US military forces. I was comparing the jamoke who currently infests the White House with Maliki.

    It was the jamoke who put up the “MISSION ACCOMPLISHED” banner.

    I find it hard to believe that anyone could think that I was comparing the two military forces.

  19. Hugo says:

    Do you refer to the cynical greedhead commanders who would put on a show of force for the sake of budget increases—capturing a nation and its dictator while they’re at it—or do you mean the dupes in the ranks subordinate? Or are the commanders both greedheads and the dupes of their Commander-in-Chief, and the ranks oblivious program killers?

  20. rhb says:

    Guesses, it’s all guesses. Who can speak for what Beijing would think about anything? It is all a part of the ongoing “military intelligence” that we use to explain our actions. Do you really suppose you know what the mind of Iran is thinking about, supposing there is such an animal. The point here is that we apparently need an enemy to have one face, a single personality, and then we can attack it (him). I said it once or twice before, no country is responsible for the actions of the terrorists that flew into the towers. China is 1.2 billion minds. Beijing may represent an easy way for you to think about China but it is self-defeating in its simplicity.

  21. Morgan Warstler says:

    WASHINGTON — A key adviser to Senator Obama’s campaign is recommending in a confidential paper that America keep between 60,000 and 80,000 troops in Iraq as of late 2010, a plan at odds with the public pledge of the Illinois senator to withdraw combat forces from Iraq within 16 months of taking office.

    The paper, obtained by The New York Sun, was written by Colin Kahl for the center-left Center for a New American Security. In “Stay on Success: A Policy of Conditional Engagement,” Mr. Kahl writes that through negotiations with the Iraqi government “the U.S. should aim to transition to a sustainable over-watch posture (of perhaps 60,000–80,000 forces) by the end of 2010 (although the specific timelines should be the byproduct of negotiations and conditions on the ground).”

    Mr. Kahl is the day-to-day coordinator of the Obama campaign’s working group on Iraq. A shorter and less detailed version of this paper appeared on the center’s Web site as a policy brief.


  22. Hugo says:

    What would be the point in remaining? The military already got its budget increases…

  23. Morgan Warstler says:


  24. Hugo says:

    Oh. Well rhb and Dan didn’t mention that part.

    Say, Morgan, you’re the subject of discussion at the tag end of the Tonya string.

  25. rhb says:

    Anyone can give advise and even reveal that is their position. Jumping to the conclusion that this advisor speaks for Obama however speaks of wishful thinking.

    Did anyone see the LA Times piece about breaking the addiction to oil?

  26. Dan says:

    “Do you refer to the cynical greedhead commanders who would put on a show of force for the sake of budget increases—capturing a nation and its dictator while they’re at it—or do you mean the dupes in the ranks subordinate? Or are the commanders both greedheads and the dupes of their Commander-in-Chief, and the ranks oblivious program killers?”

    It was a sarcastic, even flippant, remark comparing Maliki to Bush in being rash and reckless. Nothing else. I suggest that you simply disregard it, since it seems to have irritated you to no small degree.

  27. Hugo says:

    I will do so, Dan. It seems that it was my half-serious initial response that was the big irritant, and I think that’s because my sarcasm was feeble. What’s worse, you reckon, being taken in jest when you’re trying to be serious, or being taken seriously when you’re jesting. I seem to be a magnet for both, since I often blend serious points with facetious ones. If only we all could be Twain. Even for one day…

    Also, I’m pretty heavily involved in vets affairs, and am quite testy on the subject just now, when the issue is a football in play. Sorry I took that out on you.

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