British Operations in Southern Iraq
A British reservist writes:
With regard to your recent comment regarding the South of Iraq:
“Most of that area has fallen into the hands of religious Shiite militias anyway, and I doubt the British get out of their barracks all that much.”
I returned last April from Basra after serving 6 months as a reservist in the British army so I am very intimately aware of how utterly unfounded your statement is . . .
For your information large numbers of patrols operate daily (and nightly) in all areas. Occasionally patrols adopt more a low key presence such as during funerals, religious holidays or at a politically sensitive moments. However I can personally assure you overt and other types of patrols and collaborative work with the Iraqi army and police continue during these times as well.
I learnt to read, write and speak arabic to a first year university level and spoke to a large number of Iraqis in both the Basra province and the Maysan province. The major concern of people was fear that we would leave soon.
Regarding the Maysan province you may or may not be aware that the current governor was the former local commander/leader of the Office of the Martyr Sadr. Thus it is unremarkable for him to announce things like a “non-cooperation campaign against the British”. Before becoming governor he was doing a lot more than “non-cooperation” against the British presence. The huge difference now in Basra and Maysan since the elections is that the OMS organisation is adopting a far more political approach to their behaviour than we could have ever imagined. The statement for “non-cooperation” is an example, previously these self same individuals would have called for out and out war and attacks on the British now they are reduced to making bold statements about “non-cooperation”.
In addition you need to be aware about the character of the people in Maysan and in particular Al Amarah and Majar al Kabir. Many Iraqis from the Basra area have repeatedly told me that the people in these cities don’t like strangers from anywhere let alone foreigners. So this is why there tend to be more attacks in the area. There are many dissaffected former Marsh Arabs and people involved in various smuggling activities.
Traditionally various tribal groups get involved in stopping people passing through their areas and demand money from them. It has been quite common for people to have their cars stolen or be killed if they do not pay. The British and Iraqi forces have seriously inhibited these groups from operating and this is one of the main reasons for the attacks that occur on the route between Basra and Al Amarah. Indeed the most recent deaths in the British area were due to attacks occuring most probably were because of this.
Just because there are significantly fewer British casualties does not mean that the British army hides in its garrisons. In fact, on the contrary, if it did, you would hear about far more incidents and activity in the south.
One aspect that is rarely discussed is the vast difference between the British and American rules of engagement. You will quickly respond by saying ‘oh but things are so much safer in the South because it is predominantly Shia’. Yes but if we used the American rules of engagement then I am positive that there would be far far more attacks against us. It is ridiculous for British soldiers to be ordered not to overtake any of the huge American convoys on the Kuwait-Baghdad motorway because they risk being shot at by the Americans!
The main reason for attacks in Baghdad is mostly foreign Salafists responding to the general disquiet among Sunnis that, for probably the first time in the history of Islam, a predominantly pro Shiite government is in the process of installing itself in Iraq, the centre of Shiism. There is also serious disquiet in Iran because its system is categorically not endorsed by the Marja in Iraq.
The other main problem in Baghdad is the former Saddam/Baathist secret service which has transferred its talents for abduction under Saddam to abduction for personal gain.
None of these factors will be easliy overcome however surely you must see the importance of Iraq as more than just somewhere with large oil reserves.
We all fuss about American losses but the Iraqis have had far greater losses. You talk about militias and yet you know that after every bombing more and more Iraqis nevertheless move to join the Police and the Army. It is more than just because of high unemployment.