Basra Update

December 15, 2007


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I’m paying close attention to how Basra develops, not because I have a particular strong opinion on it, but because I don’t. I can make suggestions and interpretations, and wait and see if things turn out in a way that makes sense.

The lastest article from the BBC says that two thirds of residents of Basra city interviewed in a survey overwhelmingly think that things will improve when British troops leave the province.

“The majority of those questioned felt that once provincial control was handed over to local Iraqi security forces, the security situation would begin to improve.”

The problem is that I don’t know why they think this. Do they think that local security forces will have greater legitimacy when not attached to occupying foreign troops, and will therefore be able to keep order more effectively? Or do they think that the security forces will act more competently without the influence of the outsiders? Or, conversely, do they think that local security forces will become irrelevant without the British Army behind them, and that other organisations will take over responsibility for security, and do a better job of it? That wasn’t asked in the survey (full pdf is linked from newsnight page here.

For what it’s worth (and why should I claim to know more than the 16% of Basra residents who answered “Don’t know” to the survey?) I suspect the first answer is true. I think until the troops actually leave, there will always be some doubt among the locals that they ever will. Resolving that doubt will have a beneficial effect.

The other point on the BBC yesterday was about the apparent growth of extremism in the region.

“Many residents told the BBC that militias have tightened their grip in Basra since the last British troops pulled out of the city in September, after months of relentless attacks.

“They accuse Shia militias, including the Mehdi army of Moqtada Sadr, of a campaign of intimidation and violence, particularly against women.”

The key thing to remember here is that religion does not create sectarianism so much as sectarianism creates religion. The reason why extremists are shooting improperly-dressed women now, rather than ten years ago, is because, with a power struggle in the offing or in progress, religion matters now. To disdain religion today is treason in time of war.

If the power struggle goes away, so will the extremism (possibly with some lag).

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