What the Basra precedent says about Iraq

ESSAM AL-SUDANI/AFP/Getty Images Just about everybody active in the Iraq debate will find something in this morning’s Washington Post piece on Basra to hang their hat on. Against the surge? The article describes how Britain’s own mini-surge around Basra in 2006 temporarily reduced the violence but soon fell flat. For the surge? You can point ...

By , a professor at Indiana University’s Hamilton Lugar School of Global and International Studies.
600103_070806_basra_05.jpg
600103_070806_basra_05.jpg

ESSAM AL-SUDANI/AFP/Getty Images

Just about everybody active in the Iraq debate will find something in this morning's Washington Post piece on Basra to hang their hat on.

Against the surge? The article describes how Britain's own mini-surge around Basra in 2006 temporarily reduced the violence but soon fell flat.

ESSAM AL-SUDANI/AFP/Getty Images

Just about everybody active in the Iraq debate will find something in this morning’s Washington Post piece on Basra to hang their hat on.

Against the surge? The article describes how Britain’s own mini-surge around Basra in 2006 temporarily reduced the violence but soon fell flat.

For the surge? You can point to the fact that violence has grown even worse since British troops gave up trying to keep the peace.

The article also provides ammunition to all sides of the debate on Iran’s role. It depicts an Iran that is actively meddling in Basra but is also utterly unable to control events in the surrounding area:

Although neighbor Iran’s presence is pervasive — with cultural influence, humanitarian aid, arms and money — U.S. officials and outside experts think that the Iraqi parties are using Iran more than vice versa. Iraqis in the south have long memories of the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s, one U.S. official said, and when a southern Shiite “wants to tar someone, they call them an Iranian.” He said the United States is “always very concerned about Iranian influence, as well we should be, but there is a difference between influence and control. It would be very difficult for the Iranians to establish control.”

In short, the complicated and shifting picture the article paints is decidedly resistant to simple policy prescription—which makes the piece all the more credible.  

David Bosco is a professor at Indiana University’s Hamilton Lugar School of Global and International Studies. He is the author of The Poseidon Project: The Struggle to Govern the World’s Oceans. Twitter: @multilateralist

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