Experiment in Basra

October 27, 2007


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(A follow-up to When to Leave Iraq)

It is a couple of months since the British army withdrew from the city of Basra.

The question which I asked in March about the occupation of Iraq is to what extent the soldiers were preventing violent disorder by force, and to what extent they were provoking it by being a foreign army.

There was an early impression that the handover to Iraqi security forces had reduced violence. Iraqis say Basra quieter after British troop pullout

Looking at this month, it’s not so clear:
Iraq’s Basra police chief escapes assassination bid.
Gunmen clash with security forces in Iraq’s Basra

I think that as long as withdrawal (partial or full) isn’t catastrophic, then it’s a good thing. The kind of power struggle that is going on in Basra now is inevitable, and can only be postponed, not prevented, by hanging on longer. It may reach a stalemate or equilibrium, from which peaceful politics can continue. It’s the kind of conflict that exists in many countries. The presence of an occupying army, on the other hand is an irritant, perhaps minor at times, but one that can always get worse but is not likely to ever go away while the occupation persists.

What is hardest to remember is that, even if the politicians and generals want nothing but peace and prosperity for the country they occupy, it is very very hard to convince the people of that. When the subject comes round to the distrust of the occupying force, there is a temptation to dismiss the distrust, merely because it is unjustified. But that doesn’t make it go away.

There will be trouble when British and American troops leave Iraq, or any part of it. But there is trouble already. Unless the trouble after leaving is very much worse, then it is better to leave, because the conflicts that happen between locals move towards a solution, and the conflicts against the occupiers don’t.

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