In the Arena

Today in Basra

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This report in the Guardian about the Shi’ite chaos in Basra is very serious business indeed. It raises the crucial question of whether the U.S. military should involve itself in this mess. A few months ago, Ambassador Crocker seemed to oppose a Basra surge:

“Under a different set of circumstances, you might argue — as some are now doing — that we need a Basra surge,” Crocker told me. “But you’d need a fairly large force, and we don’t have the troops. And if we even proposed it, the political element in the U.S. would go nuts.”

But what if Basra, the province with most of the oil and exclusive access to the sea, falls into anarchy? It would be an epic mistake to try to jump into the middle of a civil war between the Sadr and Hakim families, and the Fadhila Party, between the Mahdi Army and the Badr Corps (which pretty much controls the Iraqi Security Forces in the south). That is what the Guardian is referring to here:

· The British unintentionally rearmed Shia militias by failing to recognise that Iraqi troops were loyal to more than one authority;

We have spent the past five years fighting Sunnis in Iraq. We know next to nothing about the Shi’ites. This is a battle that we simply can’t win or contain. I hope Crocker is right, that we’ll stay out of it, but I’m not so certain that he is.