British Problems In Basra Could Collapse U.S.-British Efforts In Iraq
A rising tide of frictions between the British soldiers in Iraq who are charged with policing the Basra region are threatening to undo the government of Labour Party Prime Minister, Tony Blair, end the British involvement in Iraq, and threaten any support from the larger Shiite community for the U.S. -British role in Iraq, making the war a complete failure.
The Southern town of Basra is the second largest city in Iraq, with a population of 1.6 million. And while British casualties have been low in the war, it was only because this city with a large Shiite population was previously glad to see the government of Saddam Hussein go. But since that time, labor unrest against the privatizing of the ports in Basra of which Iraq's oil flows have created frictions with the British. And in February a video was posted on the World Wide Web of British troops brutally beating some Basra teenagers. The word of this quickly spread and a deeping sense of anger against the British "occupation" has been brewing ever since.
This weekend tensions hit a new high when it was claimed by some residents that a British military helicopter with four or five troops was shot down over a Basra neighborhood and a riot with petrol bombs by locals took place when British trrops responded to the crash site at an abandoned house. Because of rising sectarian tensions, as many as 100,000 Sunnis and Shiites have abandoned their homes and are now living in tent cities.
The British efforts to keep the flow of oil through this port at Basra are critical to any rebuilding of the Iraqi economy, although oil exports are down by 900,000 barrels a day due to insurgent unrest in Iraq. This is a main reason that most reconstruction projects such as medical centers, electricity, clean water services are so hampered. In Baghdad there is now only 3 hours a day of electrical service where gasoilne powered generators are seen on every sidewalk powering the lights or stoves of Iraqi stores and restaurants.
It was suspected that Shiite militia elements possiby connected with the al-Sadr militia were responsible for firing weapons that took some local resident lives during the riot at the helicopter crash site this weekend. However, the possibility that British trrops attempted to defend themselves by firing into the crowd is likely to become part of an official investigation into the incident.
The American effort in Iraq may soon collapse completely if the the British troops may be forced out due to a homeland debate in Britain. Recent local elections in which Tony Blair's Labour Party did very poorly forced out some senior members of the government, including Jack Straw, who roughly holds the same position as Condoleezza Rice holds here. A troop withdrawal by thousands of British troops could put pressure on other troops such as from Japan and other nations to leave, and would spread American forces even thinner, and risk a sharp increase in violence against Americans as an antioccupation mood grows in Basra and spreads to Baghdad.
Once the discontent with the occupation spreads to the Shiite community in Baghdad, the U.S. role in Iraq is over. And the mission has failed. There still is a reluctant support for the U.S. role in Iraq in Baghdad, only because many feel that the sectarian violence would be really out of control. Almost like the ethnic cleasing problem in Bosnia, the situation in Iraq would likely grow way out of control and result in a real state of anarchy and militia violence gone wild. But with a rising anger level growing out of the British effort in the Basra region, the Shiiie majority in Baghdad may be willing to pressure the government for all foreign troops to quickly leave, opening up a bloodbath and a likely Shiite control of the official government, or even worse, Shiite militia control of the government and the end of elections in Iraq and a close relationship with Iran.
As bad as the American problems seem for securing Iraq, the problems that the British are having are threatening to bring down the entire U.S. -British effort and make the Iraq policy a complete failure within weeks to months. Most Americans would like the U.S. out of Iraq, but this form of exit would be the most problematic form of a exit, and only leave yet another seriously dysfunctional government in Iraq. Sen. Joseph Biden, ranking Senate Democrat on foreign policy matters has already described Iraq as like "Lebanon on steroids". With the resulting anarchy and violence that may soon result with the possible complete collapse of the U.S.-British effort, this opinion may be just about right.