Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Re-examining the Victory In Iraq

Major-General Barney White-Spunner confers with Sadr's deputy

That's what it's time to call it. Victory. All the doom-merchants over the last 5 years can shine the butts of Petraeus, Maliki, the Iraqi Army, and the "Sons of Iraq".

  • AQI is running back to Afghanistan (from where their leaders and founders originally fled starting in 2002),
  • Saddam's Orphans (following their daddy's neck-stretching) have decided to make an accomodation with the future,
  • -
  • and Sadr has decided to work on his degree at the Quds Bible College.
    (although Sen Obama thinks Muqtada-Man-Of-Peace "stood down")

Soon most of the Americans in Iraq will pull up stakes and start smushing Civilization's enemies in Pakistan/Afghanistan. (Are you an American who voted in 2006 to "bring the troops home"? Not gonna happen, whoever is elected President. Not 'til the job is done.)

As everyone holds their breath until the US & Iraqi elections, I'm still interested in how we got here. Which makes this story so interesting to me:

Secret deal kept British Army out of battle for Basra

"A secret deal between Britain and the notorious al-Mahdi militia prevented British Forces from coming to the aid of their US and Iraqi allies for nearly a week during the battle for Basra this year..."

The details are at the end:

"US officials knew of the discussions, which continued until March this year. They facilitated the peaceful exit of British troops from a palace compound in Basra last September in return for the release of a number of prisoners. The arrangement fell apart on March 25 when Mr al-Maliki ordered his surprise assault on Basra, catching both the Americans and British off-guard. The Americans responded by flying in reinforcements, providing air cover and offering the logistical and other support needed for the Iraqis to win. The British were partly handicapped because their commander, Major-General Barney White-Spunner, was away on a skiing holiday when the attack began. When Brigadier Julian Free, his deputy, arrived to discuss the situation with Mr al-Maliki at the presidential palace in Basra, he was made to wait outside. The first British troops only entered the city on March 31. "

Here are some quotes:

"A spokesman for the MoD said that the reason why troops were not sent immediately into Basra was because there was “no structure in place” in the city for units to go back in to start mentoring the Iraqi troops.

"Colonel Imad, who heads the 2nd Battalion, 1st Brigade, 1st Iraqi Army Division, the most experienced division, commanded one of the quick-reaction battalions summoned to assist British-trained local forces, who faltered from the outset because of inexperience and lack of support. He said: 'Without the support of the Americans we would not have accomplished the mission because the British Forces had done nothing there...I do not trust the British Forces. They did not want to lose any soldiers for the mission. ' "

"Lieutenant-Colonel Chuck Western, a senior US Marine advising the Iraqi Army... 'I was not happy. Everybody just assumed that because this deal was cut nobody was going in. Cutting a deal with the bad guys is generally not a good idea.' He emphasised, however, that he was not being critical of the British military, which he described as first-rate.

"Captain Eric Whyne, another US Marine officer who took part in the battle, said that he was astounded that “a coalition force would make a pact with essentially their enemy and promise not to go into their area so as not to get attacked”. He alleged that “some horrific atrocities” were committed by the militia in Basra during the British watch.

"A senior British defence source agreed that the battle for Basra had been damaging to Britain’s reputation in Iraq. “Maliki, and the Americans, felt the British were morally impugned by the deal they had reached with the militia. The British were accused of trying to find the line of least resistance in dealing with the Shia militia,” said the source. “You can accuse the Americans of many things, such as hamfistedness, but you can’t accuse them of not addressing a situation when it arises. While we had a strategy of evasion, the Americans just went in and addressed the problem.

I don't really blame the British for biding their time from 2003 through 2006. They didn't have enough troops to pacify Basrah all on their own and if they took a lot of casualties they wouldn't have been there at all by 2007. But the rules had definitely changed in 2007. As pressure from AQI and the insurgency collapsed, it was time to stop cutting bait and start fishing. But to honor a "deal" with Sadr as the Iraqi government moved in to bust Iran's goons suggests that the British military leadership had seriously lost their way. A good analogy would be an undercover cop who comes to identify with the racketteers he's supposed to be busting, or Col. Nicholson in The Bridge Over the River Kwai.

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