Basra comes to life again

posted at 7:20 am on April 25, 2008 by Ed Morrissey

Women can once again forego headscarves, wear jeans, and dress in bright colors without fearing kidnap, rape, and murder. Music stores have reopened. People can have parties in their homes again. Basra residents have reasons to celebrate after their own national army liberated them from the Mahdi militia and the imposition of shari’a law over the last three years, a liberation that appears to be permanent, according to Times of London reporter Deborah Haynes, the first Western journalist in Basra since the expulsion of Moqtada al-Sadr’s gangs:

Raids are continuing in a few remaining strongholds but the Iraqi commander in charge of the unprecedented operation is confident that his forces will soon achieve something that the British military could not – a city free from rogue gunmen.

British and US officials acknowledge tentatively that a turning point has been reached. Sir Richard Dannatt, the head of the British Army, made an unannounced visit to Basra over the weekend.

Local people are daring to hope that the dark days of death squads and kidnap are over, displaying the sort of optimism that was last seen when British forces arrived in 2003 with the false promise of a better life free from Saddam Hussein.

Driving through Basra in a convoy with the Iraqi general leading the Charge of the Knights operation, The Times passed Iraqi security forces manning checkpoints and patrolling the roads. Not a hostile shot was fired as the convoy turned into what was until the weekend the most notorious neighbourhood in the city. Hayaniya, a teeming slum, was a bastion for al-Mahdi Army, the main militia.

For the first time in four years local residents have been emboldened to stand up to the militants and are turning in caches of weapons. Army checkpoints have been erected across Basra and traffic police are also out in force.

While the Iraqi Army gets hailed as heroes, locals have focused on the British Army as the cause of their misery. Their light touch in Basra allowed Sadr and competing militias to gradually take control of Basra and the southern region, a process that accelerated when the British started to withdraw. Stephen Vincent warned of the consequences of this retreat in 2005, and the militias murdered the author of In the Red Zone for his outspokenness.

It turns out that the Mahdis used even more brutal methods than first thought. They turned southern Iraq into a Taliban- or Iranian-like state, but did nothing to improve the living standards in the city. Raw sewage runs in the streets, and the people remain as poor as they did under Saddam Hussein. Sadr’s attempt to build a personality cult failed, and without his gunmen in the streets, Basra residents now spend their time tearing down posters with his picture that his henchman installed throughout the city.

The central government in Baghdad knows it has to show these kind of improvements to keep Basra celebrating. “People can’t eat or drink peace,” one commander tells Haynes, and he’s right. If the Maliki government expects stability in the south in the post-Sadr era, it has to deliver on basic utilities and security. Employment will be a crucial issue; families need an income, and young men who remain unemployed will eventually create serious security problems.

Basra residents know that they still have serious problems to resolve, but at least they can start solving them. The dictatorship of the strutting Sadr has been lifted, and their elected government has sovereignty over their city. Music and life has returned to Basra, and they will have plenty of motivation to ensure that freedom remains.

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Coming from a British journalist this says something about
Irag.That their is true change and Hope in Irag,and for all
the promise’s by Politions on “Hope and Change”,this is the
real McKoy.

This Hope and change thats working in Irag is were words
mean things as in their has been action and the results speak for themselves,and Kudo’s to the United States to
deliver the Liberation of Irag,and where the Iragi citizens
are slowly getting back to their own Lives!

canopfor on April 25, 2008 at 7:40 AM

Sadr, should have shipped him to Gitmo when we had him in custody

EricPWJohnson on April 25, 2008 at 7:42 AM

Sadr,should have shipped him to Gitmo when we had him in
custody.
EricPWJohnson on April 25,2008 at 7:42AM.

EricPWJohnson: I would hope an errant Hellfire missile
would intercept Sadr before he gets to
Club Gitmo,though!

canopfor on April 25, 2008 at 7:49 AM

Taliban- or Iranian-like state

Unbelievable. In all seriousness, I haven’t come across a more disturbing piece. It’s almost like listening to a brainwashed North Korean.

freevillage on April 25, 2008 at 7:49 AM

What concerns me about this is that the British basically screwed up. We learned from our errors and did the “Surge”. The British have been making the same mistakes over and over again.

Afghanistan. Last year the US forces replaced British forces in an area that the Taliban was running rampant in. It turned out the local British commanders were having little “truces” with the Taliban. Of course the Taliban used these truces to run their forces in from Pakistan.

In comes the United States. The see the Taliban coming across the border in near battalion strength. The local commander decides to introduce them to Mr. Apache and Mr. Cobra.

The Taliban are stunned that the local commander has no interest in any truces. IIRC that area is now reasonably pacified.

What has happened to the British Lion of old?

evilned on April 25, 2008 at 8:15 AM

In a country that wasn’t sick with the fever of lunatic leftism and the lies fed by the absolutely worthless Democrat traitor scum media, such things would be celebrated.

Instead, Democrat politician after Democrat politician stands up in the Capitol building and day after day, lies about what is going on in Iraq.

All for crass political gain.

Doesn’t matter to Democrat politicians whether they might doom millions of Iraqis who trusted us, to brutal deaths.

Doesn’t matter to Democrat politicians what damage it would do to our country to scatter and run.

All the matters to Democrat politicians is that they can win a few elections and amass power. That is truly it.

Democrat politicians are nothing but raw sewage in human form and the voters who put them into office are complete idiots.

NoDonkey on April 25, 2008 at 8:53 AM

Women can once again forego headscarves, wear jeans, and dress in bright colors without fearing kidnap, rape, and murder. – according to Times of *London* reporter Deborah Haynes,

How ironic. There are sections of *London* that need to be liberated from sharia, too.

Tony737 on April 25, 2008 at 9:06 AM

“… locals have focused on the British Army as the cause of their misery. Their *light touch* in Basra allowed Sadr … to gradually take control …”

Remember when our lefty media and middle east ‘experts’ were tellin’ us that we should do it the British way? Haven’t heard much from these ‘experts’ lately, huh?

Tony737 on April 25, 2008 at 9:16 AM

Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi could not be reached for comment.

Del Dolemonte on April 25, 2008 at 9:29 AM

Contrast this with the stories in the NYT, whose correspondent reports on the events in Basra from his hotel room in Baghdad.

Sadr, should have shipped him to Gitmo when we had him in custody

EricPWJohnson on April 25, 2008 at 7:42 AM

In hindsight, he was a pretty popular guy because of his family name. I think letting him flame out on his own has worked out better than knocking him off or shipping him off would have.

Kafir on April 25, 2008 at 9:35 AM

Gee, who would have guessed that defeating the enemy would produce better results than negotiating with him to leave him in power?

rbj on April 25, 2008 at 10:25 AM

I remember reading several articles/columns about how effective the British method was; we should be learning from their example and following their playbook. I’m waiting for those authors to write a follow-up detailing the mistakes in that methodology.

Still waiting …

exhelodrvr on April 25, 2008 at 10:34 AM

Unbelievable. In all seriousness, I haven’t come across a more disturbing piece. It’s almost like listening to a brainwashed North Korean.

freevillage on April 25, 2008 at 7:49 AM

Wow. Just wow. Demonstrably good news is disturbing to you?

Seek help. Seriously.

techno_barbarian on April 25, 2008 at 10:45 AM

Give me a break! The surge has failed and the people are worse off than they were under Saddam. And the Brits know how to handle the natives better than we do! And Sadr is a man of the people; a hero and a patriot. And Bush is at fault!

ptolemy on April 25, 2008 at 11:01 AM

Kafir has a good point. If the US had killed Sadr early on, he would have become a martyr (like his father), and Shiites who revered him would have turned on us forever. Now that Shiites in the south have experienced first-hand what Sadr’s empty promises really mean, they’re more than happy to help the US and Maliki throw him out.

But neither the British nor the US should have waited THIS long to take on Sadr and his Mahdi army. We should have worked with Maliki and Sistani in 2006 to get their blessing, then moved into the southern cities, separating the Mahdis from ordinary civilians using Petraeus’ strategy, and they would have been either killed or driven into Iran long ago. Trouble is, it took a year of civil war in 2006 and disastrous elections in the US for President Bush to realize that a change in strategy was needed. In hindsight, it also seems like the British were asleep at the wheel in Basra.

Steve Z on April 25, 2008 at 11:11 AM

Women can once again forego headscarves, wear jeans, and dress in bright colors without fearing kidnap, rape, and murder. Music stores have reopened. People can have parties in their homes again. Basra residents have reasons to celebrate after their own national army.

their elected government has sovereignty over their city. Music and life has returned to Basra, and they will have plenty of motivation to ensure that freedom remains.

This sounds like just the right time for everyone to invest his 401k money in startup Disco Clubs, Gap’s and Ruth Chris Steakhouse’s in Basra. An opportunity like this to get in on the ground floor only comes around once in, oh maybe a hundred years.

Remember now, that’s Basra, B A S R A, for your 401k money, not further to the north.

Tribal fighters have cut down Iraq’s violence. But they’re subjecting women to often-medieval mores.

America’s efforts to disengage from Iraq have led to some messy compromises. After years of trying without success to wrest Sunni areas from Qaeda control, U.S. ground commanders appear to have done it at last—but only by granting sweeping powers to sheiks and local leaders who can keep the peace. Now Iraq’s Sunni areas have been chopped into fragments, each one run by a different tribal ruler with different views on law and society. In some parts of Baghdad the situation changes visibly from block to block. No one can say how many of these leaders abuse their powers, or if their little sectors can ever be put back under the purview of a centrally controlled government. “We are becoming like Afghanistan was in the ’80s,” says Zainab Salbi, the Iraq-born founder and CEO of the activist group Women for Women International.

Remember now this is just the view of the Invest in Iraq and Get Rich Money Management Group, you must always be sure to do you own due diligence.

MB4 on April 25, 2008 at 12:42 PM

a liberation that appears to be permanent, according to Times of London reporter Deborah Haynes

Oh, I just noticed that permanent part. I guess I wasn’t doing quite all my own due diligence. Seeing that the Invest in Iraq and Get Rich Money Management Group now recommends that not only should you put your 401k money into the new Basra fund, but that you should encourage all of your friends and relatives to do the same, but as we always say here at the Invest in Iraq and Get Rich Money Management Group, remember to always do your own due diligence before making ay investments even great ones like this one.

MB4 on April 25, 2008 at 12:50 PM

Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi could not be reached for comment.

Del Dolemonte on April 25, 2008 at 9:29 AM

Well of course not as they are both much too busy going through the paperwork to transferring all their bribes campaign contributions to the Invest in Iraq and Get Rich Money Management Group’s new Basra fund.

MB4 on April 25, 2008 at 1:06 PM

The MSM has been so concerned about Basra. They are going to be soooooo excited.

I bet they just won’t shut up about its liberation.

29Victor on April 25, 2008 at 1:49 PM

Strangely enough, we can thank British fecklessness for preserving and enabling a dysfunctional region of Iraq for Maliki to liberate and give the Iraqis a victory of their own. Yeah yeah, we helped, and had to push some of their soldiers out the door to do it, but pride is a big deal over there, and the post-British liberation of Basra will probably end up being a national holiday in Iraq, a much needed bandage on their national (tribalistic) pride.

Maquis on April 25, 2008 at 4:02 PM

No one can say how many of these leaders abuse their powers

Gee, great quote, MB4. In other words, perhaps NONE of the leaders are abusing their powers.

I think the firm message was that they were. Perhaps you missed this part, ” “We are becoming like Afghanistan was in the ’80s,” says Zainab Salbi, the Iraq-born founder and CEO of the activist group Women for Women International”.

or if their little sectors can ever be put back under the purview of a centrally controlled government.

I highly doubt that any individual leader would attempt crossing the central government after their little Basra demonstration of their willingness to maintain control.

blink on April 25, 2008 at 3:05 PM

Perhaps you missed this part too, “U.S. ground commanders appear to have done it at last—but only by granting sweeping powers to sheiks and local leaders.” Do you really think that if the U.S. Army found it necessary to grant the Sunni sheiks and local leaders all this, and did grant them all this, that Maliki will be able to take it away?

MB4 on April 25, 2008 at 8:59 PM

What has happened to the British Lion of old?

evilned on April 25, 2008 at 8:15 AM

Their military has been pussified. As in recruiting a certain deviant group.

Let’s just say that sharing a foxhole has a whole new meaning in Britain nowadays.

platypus on April 25, 2008 at 11:17 PM

These are highly promising developments, especially if infrastructure repair becomes a high priority. Here the people of Basra have the opportunity to very viscerally experience the differences in their lifestyles under Sadr’s goons and under the central government’s authority. Open shops must be decoupled from open sewers with great dispatch, in order to cement the felt relationship between Basrans’ community and the influence of Baghdad. And speaking of cement, this is a marvelous opportunity to employ the citizens of Basra in the [re]construction of their city.

As I discuss in my post, Global Counterinsurgency, part of what gains traction for a COIN policy is a credible demonstration that the insurgents present a far less promising avenue to peace and prosperity and honor than the forces in support of the host nation (pardon blatant post-whoring, but I really do think it’s germane to this discussion).

And yes, I do think that it is much better for Sadr to have had ample opportunity to thoroughly discredit himself than to have been prematurely martyred (with all due condolences to the hapless Iraqis who had to suffer in order for that lesson to come across).

Noocyte on April 26, 2008 at 12:07 AM

There is no flicker of the light of hope that MB4 can’t rush up to and piss all over.

In hindsight, he was a pretty popular guy because of his family name. I think letting him flame out on his own has worked out better than knocking him off or shipping him off would have.

True, unfortunately. Saddam whacking his old man is part of Mookie’s oomph. Or I should say, maybe, “formerly part of his oomph”.

Basrah is a better place today than in past. People are more free today than in past. Go ahead and carp and kvetch – I’ll simply enjoy the fact that the people I came to help are better off.

major john on April 26, 2008 at 12:34 AM

blink on April 25, 2008 at 10:47 AM
major john on April 26, 2008 at 12:34 AM

Notice how Saddam had Mookie’s father and brothers killed, but not Mookie. Why? Because even Saddam knew that Mookie was the Jethro of the Sadr clan. He was bound to implode when handed the reins of the family.

I think what we call mistakes today will be looked back upon as brilliant strategy in the future. Let the locals battle it out in a quasi civil war for a year or so until they realize that the occupier is a better bet than their own countrymen.

Kafir on April 26, 2008 at 1:26 AM

There is no flicker of the light of hope that MB4 can’t rush up to and piss all over.

major john on April 26, 2008 at 12:34 AM

Major John, you must really stop starting every other one of your comments with .. .. MB4 .. .. or you will never be Colonel John.

MB4 on April 26, 2008 at 1:48 AM

My packet goes to the September LTC board. I suspect I shall manage to be selected, ill wishes aside…

major john on April 26, 2008 at 9:38 AM

ill wishes aside…

major john on April 26, 2008 at 9:38 AM

I don’t see any ill wishes there. Not at all. If you start going on about MB4 this, MB4 that, at the promotion board I just think that it would hurt your chances. I’m looking out for you.

MB4 on April 26, 2008 at 12:30 PM

MB4, if you’re going to be selectively skeptical, then you really need to use more common sense.

blink on April 26, 2008 at 3:06 PM

Common “sense” is what gets most people and most countries into trouble.

MB4 on April 26, 2008 at 4:23 PM