Sunday, December 16, 2007

Basra Handed Over

Iraqi Security Forces and government are now in full control of the city and province of Basra. A parade was held today throughout Basra's main streets, and an impressive array of security personnel and weaponry reassured Basra's citizens that they were in good hands.

As Iraq's second-largest city, Basra is a key testing ground for two questions:
1) Can Iraqi security keep the peace that the Multi-National Forces have wrenched into some Iraqi provinces?
2) Will violence in Basra actually _drop_, as anti-Coalition forces (like those of Al-Sadr) will no longer see a military obstacle, or will such militias turn against other militias with a new hubris?

British forces will remain in the deserts outside of Basra for some time, ready to enter the city on the command of Basra's Governor, should a militia try to take control. The Iraqi forces still have some growing to do.

But the British are now all but done their obligation in Iraq, leaving the Americans mostly alone.

(if the photo looks fuzzy, just open it in a new tab)

All British Command provinces are in full Iraqi control, and British forces are being reduced to a mere 2500 troops in the next few months. American forces can only hope that the British will continue to help pay for military training and purchases by the Iraqi army, as well as help manage the sluggish development of Iraq's economy.

But if this handover goes well, it shows great promise for handovers by Polish forces in Babil, Qadisiyah, and Wasit, all of which have relatively low violence and few ethnic mixing zones. Such handovers will be particularly important for the Americans, as the new Polish leadership is itching to bring its troops home, and the Americans would prefer to not have to spread their own forces to cover any ground that the Polish abandon before a formal handover. While these three provinces are not scheduled for handover at years' end, they may well be ready for handover early in 2008.

Unfortunately, all this handing-over has little immediate effect on the Americans' abilities to consolidate their forces in hot spots, or even start drawing-down-- the only handovers so far in the American sectors have been in Kurdish areas, and American forces still remain to make sure that Turkish and Kurdish forces do not start sparring. Not surprisingly, Americans chose to govern the toughest, most ethnically divided, most violent parts of Iraq in 2003, and their obligation remains.

But places like Anbar and Tamim are starting to look increasingly safe, and American forces may try handing over some of these provinces before next summer to keep a sense of progress in the air. But this is all speculation.