Saturday, December 13, 2008

Better In Basra

Today's Basra
Having spent most of my National Service at Basra in Iraq back in 1955 and 1956, I am particularly pleased to see that it has now started to overcome some of its recent problems. In today's Daily Telegraph, Thomas Harding states that -

Basra was among the most liberated, secular and artistic cities in the Arab world, and it seems that with (Jaish al Madhdi militia HB.) JAM's strict Islamic stranglehold gone, better times have arrived. Couples can walk the streets holding hands, women have replaced face veils with liberal coatings of make-up and shops openly sell curvaceous evening gowns. On Thursday evening, the start of the Muslim weekend, the streets and restaurants were filled with people keen to enjoy nights now free from bomb blasts and gunfire. Two floating restaurants have even taken station on Basra’s famous cornice, where couples and families happily wander to the fairground.


Anand said...

Harry, The IA is still upset with the Brits. They think they won the fight in Basrah.

The British trained 10th IAD was until recently the worst division in the entire IA.

The Brits did a worse job training the Basrah provincial IP than the trainers for any other province.

This is why so many are upset with the Brits. The Brits have to evaluate why they did such a bad job training the IA and IP.

I am disappointed that the British public hasn't taken this lesson to heart, and evaluated exactly why "THEY" messed up this bad. They can't blame this on Iraqis (the non British trained IA performed well) or America or anyone else.

They key to success is not doing things yourself perfectly but facilitating other people doing things well.

This, in my view is at the heart of the British failure. For all our sakes, I hope the British learn these lessons and do a decent job training the ANSF (Afghan National Security Forces.) The world needs the Afghans and the ANSF to win.

Harry Barnes said...

Anand; British perceptions are influenced by the fact that initially we seemed to be way ahead of the US in Iraq. The US had Fallujah, Al Ghriab and Blackwater-syle issues (correctly) around their necks: whilst the UK had a friendly "soft-cap" image in Basra. Later we pulled back to Basra airport, with many in the UK seeing this as a fruitful move towards a withdrawal from Iraq - the initial invasion having been widely unpopular - much more so than in the US.

I know that later a great deal of the Iraqi Government's relative success in Basra, rested upon US backing. But by then, the British public had started to draw a line under our Iraqi adventure. Blair its architect had gone (even though Gordon Brown had never detached himself from the Blair line on Iraq). But Brown's premiership roughly co-insided with cuts in our troop numbers.

Just as many in the UK blame the US for the world economic collapse, so they blame it for a mistaken adventure in Iraq. Our own faults are seen as those of following the US lead. Any recent improvements in Iraq are only seen as making the best of a bad job.

Anand said...

"initially we seemed to be way ahead of the US in Iraq. The US had Fallujah, Al Ghriab and Blackwater-syle issues (correctly) around their necks: whilst the UK had a friendly "soft-cap" image in Basra."

This was a faulty perception. The Iraqi resistance and Iraqi Governing Council were wildly popular in Basrah in 2003. The Brits were greeted as liberators. They were protected by the anti Saddam Iraqi resistance from the many who wanted to hurt the British troops.

It was much harder in the Center, West and North. The problem in Fallujah was that it had far too few troops until 2004. Armed militias were allowed to take control. In addition, the Iraqi Governing Council and emerging Iraqi political class were unpopular in Fallujah. Later, in November 2004 the Marines and Iraqi Army finally occupied and pacified Falluja.

Abu Graib was one prison complex with huge problems in 2003 that stopped having problems when the problems were uncovered.

The contractors that worked for the US military did a good job. The problem was contractors that worked for the State department and other agencies (including for embassies of other countries, such as the contractors who defended the Turkish embassy.) It isn't fair to blame the contractor problems on the US military.

Harry, the British trained police in Basrah had huge problems with torture, and abuse of civilians. These problems were much more serious than the Falluja, Abu Ghraib and Blackwater put together.

"Later we pulled back to Basra airport, with many in the UK seeing this as a fruitful move towards a withdrawal from Iraq" In other words the British public and British military didn't give a damn about Iraqis; all they wanted to do was leave Iraq as quickly as possible. This is how many Iraqis saw the Brits.

"I know that later a great deal of the Iraqi Government's relative success in Basra, rested upon US backing." It was the Iraqi Army that won in Basrah. They moved an entire division worth of forces to Basrah in a week and their logistics trail almost completely on their own. MNF-I was stunned at how quickly they pulled it off. The Iraqi Army won the fight on its own. Yes the 1st IAD and 26-7 IA brought their Marine advisors with them . . . but the Marine advisors were so embedded they fought as part of the IA.

One huge criticism American Advisors make of the British MiTT teams is that they didn't become a part of the Iraqi units they "embedded" with. They didn't seem emotionally and fully committed to their ISF units' success.

Many different people have offered this criticism. It was almost as if the Brits didn't really care if the IA and IP won or lost, achieved their mission or failed in their mission. The British troops were disconnected from their mission; they were not fully emotionally vested in the success of the ISF, their mission, the GoI and Iraq.

The GoI and IA were especially irate at how the British army criticized them harshly behind their backs to the press. Propaganda like--"a great deal of the Iraqi Government's relative success in Basra, rested upon US backing"--spewed from the British army to the press. The British Army and British more generally didn't seem to be on the same side as the Iraqis. In the opinion of most Iraqis (and in my opinion) they weren't. The Brits were rooting for the wrong side.

The Brits just didn't seem emotionally vested in seeing the Iraqis win. That seems to be a huge part of the problem. The IA in the South really thought that the Brits were dealing with Iranian backed militias (that were mass abusing Basraian civilians, and killing ISF) behind their backs. It is more than conjecture, didn't this really happen.

Who can forget the dumb British general claiming that violence in Basrah was down 90% after the Brits pulled out. Basraians, the IA, IP, and GoI knew that that was a bold faced lie.

Anand said...

How did the British army mess up so badly? The British trained 10th IAD was by far the worst division in the IA. The British trained Basrah IP and Maysan IP were the two worst provincial IPs in all of Iraq.

If the Brits didn't want to fight or risk their lives to help Iraqis, that still doesn't answer why they botched up the training of the ISF so much. Did the British Army want the ISF to fail?

I sincerely hope that the Brits do a better job training the ANSF in Afghanistan, for all our sakes.

Some more comments on the Brits in Iraq here:

I am sorry for taking this out on you. But the ANSF and Afghans have to win in Afghanistan. For this to happen, the British army has to improve its performance. There will soon by 10,000 of them in Afghanistan.

Harry Barnes said...

Anand : The criticisms of both US and UK involvement in Iraq need to be levelled at their Governments rather than their militaries. The country we should have concentrated our efforts upon was Afghanistan. But we were both initially reluctant to involve ground troops and centred upon ariel activity. When the Taliban was defeated, we quickly moved away from concentrating on the needs of the Afghan people and rushed our military and other resources into Iraq. Again we did this with insufficient troops on the ground and resorted to shock and awe. There was then a resort to the use of private military resources, whose role was exposed by Peter Singer in his "Corporate Warriors" (Cornell University 2003). By invading Iraq we also gave other nations an excuse to overlook the needs of Afghanistan, where the UK military has paid a heavy price for its involvement. Hence the UK Government's regular calls to seek to get our European partners to share the burden.
I opposed the invasion of Iraq (and argued for alternative anti-Baath activities), whilst giving critical support to the invasion of Afghanistan. But unlike the leadership of the anti-war movement in the UK, I realised that the invasion of Iraq changed the game. It was unreasonable to suggest that we should then just pull out in some sort of attempt to pretend that we could just wipe-out the invasion. The problem was that shock and awe, Abu Ghriab, Fallujah and Blackwaters fanned the flames of the anti-war movement - as well as aiding terrorist recruitment in Iraq. Eventually with the surge and the awakening, aspects of the corner began to be turned. Perhaps the UK could have shared in this approach, but they felt they were already overstretched in Afghanistan (where "Brits" have certainly been prepared "to fight and risk their lives"). This made the logistical requirements of a surge difficult. In addition the original anti-war sentiment here has always been strong and a surge would have been seen by many as a fresh invasion of Iraq. But whilst the anti-war movement has added the withdrawal of our troops from Afganistan to their creed, this approach has had little impact on attitudes in the UK.