Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Basra: how not to make an exit from Iraq

For a picture of what a poorly planned American pullout might look like, look no farther than Basra:

Attacks on British forces in Basra are soaring. Deaths and injuries are higher than any time since the invasion.

The [British base at the Basra airport] has become a shooting gallery for Iraqi insurgents. British forces are housed in tents, many near the airport tower which is visible from well beyond the heavily defended airport perimeter. Insurgents using 107mm or 120mm rockets, fired from old drainpipes or other makeshift launchpads, simply aim at the tower and hope to cause mayhem in the camp.

Basra is the major city in oil rich southern Iraq. Controlled by the majority Shiites, the battles in Basra are dominated by factional power struggles, not the ethnic slaughter currently seen in Baghdad. The small Sunni community along with intellectuals and teachers is being driven out by the militias.

Earlier this year, Tony Blair decided to call it quits and begin pulling out completely. But that hasn't spared British troops who largely remain confined to the airport.

Basra, mind you, is Dick Cheney's idea of a success story:

"The British have done what is really the plan for the country as a whole, which is to be able to transfer security responsibilities to the Iraqis, as conditions permit," Cheney said. "What I see is an affirmation of the fact that there are parts of Iraq where things are going pretty well."

This also lends the lie to the idea that a "soft partition" along ethnic lines would prevent the collapse of Iraq into civil war. Ethnic rivalries are only the most obvious conflicts to those of us on the outside. The Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds are themselves divided into hostile factions who target each other as often as they target anyone else.

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