2006 June 13 Tuesday
Factions Fight Over Oil In Basra

Sabrina Tavernise and Qais Mizher of the New York Times report on the brutal battle for power and oil in Basra Iraq.

BASRA, Iraq ó Politics, once seen as a solution to the problems of a society broken by years of brutal single-party rule, has paralyzed the heart of Iraq's south.

This once-quiet city of riverside promenades was among the most receptive to the American invasion. Now, three years later, it is being pulled apart by Shiite political parties that want to control the region and its biggest prize, oil. But in today's Iraq, politics and power flow from the guns of militias, and negotiating has been a bloody process.

"We're into political porridge, that's what's changed," said Brig. James Everard, commander of the British forces in Basra. "It's mafia-type politics down here."

Basra is deep in the Shia heartland. The Sunnis and Zarqawi can not be blamed for its descent into Hobbesian barbarity.

While some locals think the British contributed to the violence others think the British weren't stern enough.

Some local people say British actions have helped to fuel the violence. But others say the British have not been tough enough, allowing criminal and factional elements to thrive.

"They should have moved against these people earlier," said Hassan, a teacher. "Now it's too late."

British commanders disagree. They say those behind the recent attacks on their troops are on the back-foot now, after a series of raids netted major finds of weapons and bomb-making materials. The main threat, these officers say, comes from "rogue elements" in local Shia militia groups - particularly from the Mehdi Army, loyal to the radical cleric Moqtada Sadr.

Saddam Hussein would have taken family members of trouble makers captive and killed some of them. Then the troublemakers would have had to ask themselves whether they wanted to see their whole families wiped out.

Foreign Policy magazine and the Fund For Peace have published a an international failed states ranking. They place Iraq at number 4 behind Sudan, the so-called Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Ivory Coast. Iraq comes out worse than number 5 Zimbabwe on a 10 point scale (higher is worse) by the indicators "Group Grievance" (9.8 versus 8.5), "Human Flight" (9.1 versus 9.0), "Human Rights" (9.7 versus 9.5), Security Apparatus (9.8 versus 9.4), "Factionalized Elites" (9.7 to 8.5), and "External Intervention (10.0 versus 8.0). Though Zimbabwe scores worse on several indicators including "Demographic Pressures", "Uneven Development" (guess they are referring to Chinese investments), "Economy", "Delegitimization of State", and "Public Services".

The full list of failed states shows nuclear and Muslim Pakistan at a worrisome number 10. Can you say "thermonuclear war"? Sure.

Try to stop the factions from fighting or let them have at it?

The situation in Basra raises a question: Does it make more sense to stay to try to quell increasing sectarian and terrorist violence, or leave and let Iraqis fight it out? British officials have talked of drawing down troops soon - while insisting that their mission has been more success than failure.

Their decision is likely to foreshadow the U.S. endgame in Iraq. Perhaps some uneasy calm can first be achieved. But right now, Basra seems more to reinforce Lawrence of Arabia's cautionary words in 1920 about British involvement in Iraq. Mesopotamia (as Iraq used to be known) was, Lawrence said, "a trap from which it will be hard to escape with dignity and honor."

Yes, too late to escape with dignity. Not too late to escape though.

The Iraqi government is worried about the violence because they fear disruptions in oil deliveries and hence big revenue losses.

University professors, army officers, Muslim clerics, and community leaders have been targeted in assassinations in recent months. While some of the attacks are on Sunni Arabs and former Baath party members, others appear to involved internecine strife between militias aligned with rival factions and political groups.

As a result of the violence, security has been left in tatters, and even the presence of 8,000 British troops has not stopped the violence.

The violence increased rather than decreased after the new Iraqi prime minister Nuri al-Maliki declared a month-long state of emergency on 31 May. Within days of his announcement, at least 35 people were killed and dozens more injured in a bloody attack in the city public market and a shooting at a Sunni mosque.

Brigadier James Everard, the commander of British forces in Iraq's four southeastern provinces, says the Iraqis are not interested in freedom of speech.

To a large degree, the violence has resulted from a power grab by Shiite factions that had been left practically on their own to run the region while American and Iraqi officials in Baghdad have fought insurgents elsewhere.

"Freedom of speech, freedom of expression: it just hasn't quite worked out the way it was planned," Everard said. "They're not prepared to debate. They tend to do things at the end of a gun."

Liberalism doesn't hold much appeal in Iraq and the people aren't willing to fight for freedom of speech, freedom of press, and freedom of religion. In fact, they are far more inclined to fight against than for those very Western ideals.

Conservative columnist John Derbyshire says he was mistaken for supporting the war.

We are not controlling events in Iraq. Events in Iraq are controlling us. We are the puppet; the street gangs of Baghdad and Basra are the puppet-masters, aided and abetted by an unsavory assortment of confidence men, bazaar traders, scheming clerics, ethnic front men, and Iranian agents. With all our wealth and power and idealism, we have submitted to become the plaything of a rabble, and a Middle Eastern rabble at that. Instead of rubbling, we have ourselves been rabbled. The lazy-minded evangelico-romanticism of George W. Bush, the bureaucratic will to power of Donald Rumsfeld, the avuncular condescension of Dick Cheney, and the reflexive military deference of Colin Powell combined to get us into a situation we never wanted to be in, a situation no self-respecting nation ought to be in, a situation we donít know how to get out of. Itís not inconceivable that, with a run of sheer good luck, we might yet escape without too much egg on our faces, but itís not likely. The place we are at is surely not a place anyone in 2003 wanted us to be atónot even Vic Davis Hanson.

Since the Iraq war was obviously a gross blunder, is it time for those of us who cheered on the war to offer some kind of apology? Here we areówe, the United Statesóin our fourth year of occupying that sinkhole, and it looks pretty much like the third year, or the second. Will the eighth year of our occupation, or our twelfth, look any better? I know people who will say yes, but I no longer know any who will say it with real conviction. Itís a tough thing, to admit you were wrong. Itís way tough if youíre a big-name pundit with a reputation to preserve. For those of us down at the bottom of the pundit pecking order, the stakes arenít so high. I, at any rate, am willing to eat some crow and say: I wish I had never given any support to this fool war.

Read his full essay.

The biggest tragedy of Iraq that gets the least press attention is the extreme loss of rights by women. Basra women claim they've lost the most.

BASRA - The women of Basra have disappeared. Three years after the US-led invasion of Iraq, women's secular freedoms - once the envy of women across the Middle East - have been snatched away because militant Islam is rising across the country.

Our supposed allies the Shiites are terrible in their treatment of women.

In the British-occupied south, where Muqtada al-Sadr's Mehdi army retains a stranglehold, women insist the situation is at its worst.

Here they are forced to live behind closed doors only to emerge, concealed behind scarves, hidden behind husbands and fathers. Even wearing a pair of trousers is considered an act of defiance, punishable by death.

One Basra woman, known only as Dr Kefaya, was working in the women and children's hospital unit at the city university when she started receiving threats from extremists. She defied them. Then, one day a man walked into the building and murdered her.

We opened Pandora's Box. The lives of Iraqi women are worse for it.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2006 June 13 10:58 PM  Mideast Iraq


Comments
John S Bolton said at June 14, 2006 2:39 AM:

Iraq as an experiment in the possibilities of saving moslems from themselves, has no better chance than the West Bank or Gaza. The experiment has been conducted, now it must be terminated and the experimental cages cleaned out.
The war aims must be purely punitive and resource-securing.
There is little or no need to kill the moslems directly; they will kill each other in the scramble for atrocitocratic power. When those who commit the most and worst atrocities start to sweep the field locally, these can be occasionally intervened against.
As in NATO's policy in the Balkans wars, all that is needed to maximize the death totals is to intervene when one side starts to win, against the stronger party. Eventually there will be many hundreds dead of theirs, for every one of ours.
This is how the punitive war aims are to be prosecuted.
Iran can then be bombed, and invaded with troops presently in Iraq. These should secure the resources, which are located offshore or in unpopulated places. This next step makes the Iraqi situation more worthwhile, as it then is seen as a platform for going against Iran.
The pretense of equal desire for freedom on the part of all peoples, keeps stepping on IED's. Moslem political actors want freedom for aggression, for rule by terror and competition in terms of worse atrocities.
There is no political system which can empty out their will to power, in less than generations, if even then.
America does not, and cannot, possess the will to impose on others a freedom from aggression; not so long as our offcials are avid for freedom for aggression, namely, their own.

Stephen said at June 15, 2006 6:01 PM:

John, addressing his own Nuremberg rally, said: Iran can then be bombed, and invaded with troops presently in Iraq. These should secure the resources, which are located offshore or in unpopulated places.

Its frightening to imagine the economic chaos and general increase in barbarism that'll happen if every major power decides that they don't have to buy stuff but can instead cross their borders and steal something from their neighbour. Also, you'd better hope your friends and neighbours don't decide to do that same thing to you before you do it to them. After all, under your theory, there's nothing restraining them or you.

I propose a novel alternate strategy to get oil: I call it 'Commerce' - its where someone who has something that someone else wants (say, a quantity of oil) negotiates a mutually agreeable swap (say, a quantity of gold). If widely adopted it could potentially become a milestone in the advancement of humanity.

gcochran said at June 15, 2006 7:27 PM:

Stephen, your way of addressing Mr. Bolton may be more effective than my natural approach: I was just going to call him an asshole. In part that was because your argument, although wonderfully valid, seems to me rather obvious - so obvious that nobody should have to bring it up. But then I thought the same about aggresive war: but practically eevrybody has forgotten Nuremberg. The trial, not the rallies.

John S Bolton said at June 16, 2006 12:21 AM:

Perhaps 60 years ago, the gullible could have believed that the great affairs of the world are run by gentlemen, that WW's I&II were really about the 'rights of neutrals', or that Nuremberg was about making the world safe for the Swiss.
Commerce in stolen goods is not gentlemanly, nor is there any honor in peaceably buying from those, like the Iranian atrocitocrats, who offer plunder for sale internationally.
In such an instance; war is honorable and trade is cowardly and dishonorable.
It is wrong to leave the greater part of such resources in the hands of those who wage war on us; just as, in WWII, no chances were taken of letting Ireland or Iceland fall under Hitler's influence, but preemptive actions were taken.
Did anyone like Nuremberg prosecutors even consider proceeding against those on their side, who intervened against neutrals, and in preemptive manner?

Derek Copold said at June 16, 2006 11:02 AM:

You can't make a fire without fuel. I doubt we have the resources on hand to take half the stuff John is babbling about, let alone hold onto them for years.

As for the play them off against one another trick, that's exactly what we did in the 80s with Hussein and Khomeni. It only led to further problems down the road, ie, the First Gulf War, which then led to...well, y'all know the rest of the story.


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