Basra Update

BASRA UPDATE….So how did the Iraqi security forces do in their battle against the Mahdi Army in Basra? Al-Zaman reported earlier this week that “thousands” of police officers and “at least two army regiments” had either defected or refused to fight, but I’ve seen no other confirmation of that until today. Here’s the Washington Post:

A senior official in Iraq’s Defense Ministry, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not allowed to discuss military operations publicly, said Iraqi troops were overwhelmed by the second day of fighting.

….The official said he estimated that 30 percent of the Iraqi troops abandoned the fight before a cease-fire was reached. He also said that soldiers had been hindered by ammunition and food shortages and that some Iraqi police troops, who were supposed to be backing the Iraqi army, had actually supported the militias.

….”If the British and American forces were not there, the Mahdi Army would have gained a victory,” he said.

That would put the number of nonperforming troops at about 4,000. Now here’s the New York Times:

A senior American military official said that he understood that 1,000 to 1,500 Iraqi forces had deserted or underperformed….Three officials said that among those who had been relieved of duty for refusing to fight were Col. Rahim Jabbar and Lt. Col. Shakir Khalaf, the commander and deputy commander of an entire brigade affiliated with the Interior Ministry.

And this from CNN: “A closely held U.S. military intelligence analysis of the fighting showed that Iraqi security forces controlled less than a quarter of the city [of Basra], according to U.S. officials in the United States and Iraq. They said Basra’s police units were deeply infiltrated by members of al-Sadr’s Mehdi Army.”

So anywhere from 1,000 to 4,000 troops refused to fight — and if I had to guess, I’d say that the real number is closer to the high end than the low — and by the time fighting was over the army controlled only a quarter of Basra. Not a good sign.

In related news, Muqtada al-Sadr is calling for a million-man march in Najaf to protest the American occupation; Maliki is apparently set to break the truce negotiated last weekend already; and the Sunni tribes are pissed off that Maliki is hiring 10,000 new security forces from local tribes even though he’s been telling them for months that no more slots are available.

And the good news? Well, things are relatively calm for the moment and the Iraqi army, though bloodied, is still intact. Take that for what it’s worth if you’re the optimistic type.