Fighting in Basra

If what we’re hearing about the the intra-Shiite fighting in Basra is true, it’s an operation that’s been signalled for weeks, which means it’s been planned for longer than that. It’s also pretty obvious, as Phillip Carter observes over at Intel Dump, that Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki is using the Iraqi security forces to consolidate his hold on power. Which basically means that the factional differences that were supposed to be resolved in the political arena through reconciliation are being settled in the street with mortar and rocket fire, and that this was the plan for quite a while. You don’t need to be an authority on Clausewitz (“War is an extension of politics, but by other means.”) to realize that this is pretty damning stuff for advocates of the Surge.

Carter also underlines the fact that the Iraqi security forces now fighting in Basra are the product of our much-vaunted (in Washington, anyway) training program, and so far the verdict is still outon their performance:

Every time you think of the “adviser model” for Iraq, you should think of this operation in Basra. Because this is the end result of the U.S. advisory effort to date — which has focused on creating well-trained and equipped units at the tactical level, but has basically failed at the national, strategic level. The leaders of the Iraqi security forces at the ministry level are as bad as they ever were. And the national government is about as bad. Training and advising Iraqi units at the brigade level and below is well and good. But if you fail to properly shape the national command structure, you’re handing those units over to leaders who will misuse them.

The bitter irony, of course, is that the analysis applies to the American military as well. We’ve successfully adapted our tactics from the brigade level down to Gen. Petraeus’ counterinsurgency approach. But the COIN tactics we’ve adopted benefitted from the decision by all of Iraq’s potential spoilers (Sunni insurgents beforehand, and Moqtada al-Sadr just after) to play along. So while COIN has been widely celebrated in Washington, it has yet to be validated in the face of serious pushback on the ground in Iraq.

This is where the rubber hits the road on the Surge as well as on the Sunni Awakening since, as Carter says, the Sunnis have got to be watching Maliki’s power move in Basra and wondering if they’re next. Of course, it’s what Surge skeptics have been warning against since the very start. In all likelihood, should things really fall apart, it will be the fault of War critics who, by secretly wishing for failure, managed to bring it upon us, despite Gen. Petraeus receiving every last boot on the ground that he wanted, even if it took skirting the chain of command to get them.

That’s what happens when magical thinking replaces strategy.