All "OK" in Basra? A follow-up Posted by: McQ
on Friday, August 31, 2007
Last week I took a shot at the Brits based on a report in the International Herald Tribunewhich said:
Shiite militiamen from the Mahdi Army took over the police joint command center in Basra on Sunday after British soldiers withdrew from the facility and handed control to the Iraqi police, witnesses said.
Police left the building when the militiamen, loyal to anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, arrived, the witnesses said.
The British military disputed the reports, saying they had been in contact with the Iraqi general in charge of security in Basra, who has said the Mahdi Army was not there.
But the witnesses said the Mahdi Army emptied the building — taking generators, computers, furniture and even cars, saying it was war booty — and remained there in the early evening.
The British military had maintained a small number of soldiers at the command center to help train Iraqi police.
I felt, based on that report, that that the US would have to go in there and clean the place out again.
The first indicator that there may be something amiss with the story came later in the day. As it happened, I was scheduled on a Blogger Roundtable call with MG James E. Simmons, Deputy Commanding General Support with Multi-National Corps-Iraq. I asked him about the Basra story. Here's his reaction [pdf]:
Q General, good afternoon. Bruce McQuain with Q&O.net. There's a story today in the Herald Tribune, International Herald Tribune, about the British moving out of Basra, and a report that the Mahdi Army has essentially moved in. How does that impact your operations in Phantom Strike?
GEN. SIMMONS: Well, first of all, I don't know where they got their information, but it is not accurate. We turned over, in a planned operation, the Basra palace to the Iraqi security forces, an operation that has been scheduled and planned for over nine months. It was done in a deliberate manner.
It was coordinated with the Iraqi government and it was supervised by General Mohan, a four-star general who runs the military operations for the Iraqis in Basra, and the British forces that were stationed there. The British forces have consolidated into one FOB, forward operating base, that is around the airfield there on the northwest side of Basra.
So I don't — I have absolutely — (audio break) — idea of what they're talking about the Mahdi Army taking over Basra. That is just absolutely untrue.
No mincing of words there.
Today, a piece appears in the Washington Post by Des Brown and David Miliband (the Defense Secretary and Foreign Secretary, respectively, of the UK) entitled "Still On Track in Basra" in which they also dispute the IHT story:
Commanders on the ground expect that Basra province will in months, not years, be judged to have met the conditions for transfer to full Iraqi security control. As with each of the seven Iraqi provinces already transferred — four in areas of Iraq previously controlled by U.S.-led forces, three in the south in the U.K.-led area of operations — the final decision will be taken by the Iraqi government, in consultation with the U.S. commander of the multinational force, based on the conditions on the ground.
Decades of misrule, deliberate neglect and violent oppression under Saddam Hussein have left a legacy of political, social and economic problems that will take many years of patient effort to overcome.
There is no anti-government insurgency, and very little evidence of an al-Qaeda presence in southern Iraq, whose population is over 90 percent Shiite. But there is intense political competition between longstanding rival Shiite movements, too often spilling over into violence.
To recognize that such challenges remain is not to accept that our mission in southern Iraq is failing. Our goal was to bring Iraqi forces and institutions to a level where they could take on responsibility for their communities. It could not create in four years in Iraq the democracy, governance and security that it took Great Britain and the United States centuries to establish. That is a long-term task for the whole international community.
In those southern provinces already transferred to Iraqi control, the political and security authorities have responded robustly to recent intimidation and violence. They have grown in stature and confidence in a way that was impossible while we retained control.
We believe we remain on track to complete the return of full sovereignty to the Iraqi people as planned. The United Kingdom is sticking to the mission we took on four years ago. But our commitment to Iraq will not end when our troop movements and the transfer of security control in Basra are complete. The international community will need to maintain its support of Iraq for a long time to come, even if the form of that support will evolve over time. Prime Minister Gordon Brown has said we will fulfill our obligations to the Iraqi people and to the international community.
So that's where we stand at the moment. The US is denying the IHT story, and now the British government is saying it is poppycock.