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.
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.
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.
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|