British Forces Ringing Basra Have

*The British forces ringing Basra have called on civilians to leave the city. Many are walking to Basra, 12 miles away, in search of water. The British would ideally like to empty the city of 1.2 million so as to have a clear shot at the Baathist forces that remain behind. The water situation is apparently become unbearable in the city. It seems to me a little unlikely that over a million civilians can be evacuated under these conditions, and it also seems increasingly likely that a British assault on Basra will be forced to target Baath troops who have nestled in residential areas. This could get very ugly, and the scenarios the Pentago hoped for of joyous Basrans dancing in the streets to be relieved of Saddam are unlikely ever to be realized. Washington though Iraq would be like Afghanistan. The two are not comparable. Iraq is a modern industrialized country, if beaten down by the sanctions, and the Baath is a sophisticated political party, quite unlike the Taliban. One is always fighting the last war, and always making mistakes because of that.

*According to the wire services, the Shiite uprising in Basra was very limited and was quickly repressed by Baath forces. An spokesman for Iraqi Shiites said that “there had been up a civilian uprising in the main southern city of Basra, but said it affected only one working class neighborhood. “The uprising, which was limited to this neighborhood, took place after coalition forces bombed government positions,” Akram Hakim, an official of the Iran-based Supreme Assembly for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SAIRI), told Al-Jazeera. He said the situation remained “explosive” yesterday morning in Basra. ” When Shiites in Basra rose up against Saddam in spring of 1991 after the first Gulf War, the US stood by while the Baath brutally repressed them, so they have reason to hold back this time.

*The heavy fighting by US forces and the Republican Guard near Najaf has all knowledgeable observers worried that the US may accidentally inflict damage on this holy Shiite city, home of the shrine to Imam `Ali, the son-in-law and cousin of the Prophet Muhammad. Such incidents could ultimately affect the attitude toward the US war in Iraq of the Shiite ayatollahs in Iran, not to mention the Shiites of Bahrain (who form a majority of the population there; it is home to the US naval fleet in the Gulf) and Lebanon. Even the Hazara Shiites of Afghanistan, so far allies of the US, could be alienated if things go wrong in Najaf.

*Speaking of Shiites, the 15,000 trained fighters of the anti-Saddam al-Badr Brigade have so far not shown up as a factor in the war. A report out of Pakistan recently suggested that the Iranians, who are the hosts of the Badr Brigade, have thrown up barriers to the infiltration of these troops into Iraq. There had earlier been reports of Brigade fighters slipping into Kurdistan in the north. The Iranians, whose Revolutionary Guards held a rally on the Iran-Iraq border yesterday, so far appear to want to be perceived as neutral. They hate Saddam, who attacked Iran in 1980 and is responsible for hundreds of thousands of Iranian war dead. But they also deeply distrust the US and are afraid they are being surrounded with a view to the eventual overthrow by the US of the current Iranian government. The political wing of the Badr Brigades, the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) has had an up and down relationship with the US war effort. They seemed to be supporting it last summer and fall. But when National Security Council point man on Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad began talking about a US military and then civilian administration of Iraq after the war, Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim, a SCIRI leader, called him a bully. Muhammad Baqir al-Hakim, the head of SCIRI has recently as much as said that SCIRI would use military force to oppose any long-term US presence in Iraq. I think the Arabic word for quagmire is probably al-mustanqa`. Washington will probably have to learn to pronounce it.

*Mark Sedra in Foreign Policy in Focus is arguing that the lessons of Afghanistan for Iraq policy are depressing. There have been 400 attacks on US and Afghan security in the past year, and most of the country is ruled by warlords. [Reporters without Borders is issuing a report critical of the harsh crackdown on the press in Ismail Khan’s Herat.] The donor aid promised at Tokyo has often not actually been forthcoming, and was in any case an vast underestimate of the actual need. It looks increasingly as though Iraq’s infrastructure is going to be severely damaged by the US war. I can only think that the US did not initially use air power to inflict heavy attrition on Iraqi conventional forces outside Baghdad because they hoped against hope that they could decapitate the regime and retain an Iraqi military for the future. Since, however, the Baath and the Republican Guards are standing firm, it seems less and less likely that there will be much salvageable from the bureaucracy and military for reconstruction purposes after the war. So, restoring and maintaining security, and rebuilding the bureaucracy and the country are going to be slow and very expensive.

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