Sunday, April 29, 2007

Bloody Basra

By Michael J.W. Stickings

It's not what it used to be: "Once an island of relative tranquillity, Basra has suffered a dramatic turnaround in the last two years":

Although the violence pales in comparison to Baghdad's, seven British soldiers have been killed in Basra in April, three in gunfire and four when a roadside bomb tore through their Warrior fighting vehicle. The deaths pushed Britain's monthly toll in Iraq to 11, the highest since 27 of its troops were killed during the invasion of March 2003, according to the Web site

The spike in violence comes as Britain begins to disengage from southern Iraq, leaving Shiite political parties and their associated militias to duke it out over the spoils. At stake is control of political patronage in Iraq's second-largest city and of the billions of dollars in oil that flow through the country's only seaport.

The war's proponents will say that this is why withdrawal is a bad idea. If this is what is happening in Basra, consider what will happen in Baghdad when the U.S. leaves. But the upsurge of violence in Basra predates the phased British withdrawal, and the situation there -- intra-sectarian violence -- may be one that needs to play out without the presence of an occupying force (the presence of which provides a target for its opponents and may actually be making the situation worse).

Regardless, what the situation in Basra indicates is that the violence in Iraq isn't limited to Baghdad and largely Sunni areas like Anbar but is in fact ubiquitous. Which means that the U.S.-led surge in Baghdad and Anbar, even if successful, would only do so much to pacify the country and provide the stability necessary for the Iraqi government to succeed.

The Iraq of today is closer to chaos than to stability -- or, at least, stability is a long way off. And it is what it is today not just because of the explosion of long-dormant (because long-suppressed) sectarianism but because the war/occupation -- which I refer to jointly as the Iraq War -- has been so grossly mismanaged.

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