STAND UP/STAND DOWN UPDATE….The British defense secretary said today that their planned troop drawdown in Basra has been put on hold. No surprise there. But this was a little more interesting:
The defense secretary, Desmond Browne, also used his statement in the House of Commons to acknowledge that British military involvement in last week’s fighting in Basra was more extensive than previously disclosed. At one point, he said, British tanks, armored vehicles, artillery and ground troops were deployed to help extract Iraqi government troops from a firefight with Shiite militiamen in the city.
….Mr. Browne said the use of British ground troops in the fighting was ordered “in extremis,” suggesting that the deployment of forces from the British base at Basra was a last-ditch measure to save Iraqi troops.
I read one or two reports over the weekend suggesting that the Sadrists in Basra were running low on ammunition and food, and that’s why Muqtada al-Sadr agreed to a cease fire. And who knows? That might be true. But Browne sure makes it sound as if the government forces, despite better supply lines, heavier equipment, and help from British forces, were in even more dire straits. The 14th division of the Iraqi army, which led the fight in Basra, was supposed to be one of their best — and also one of the most loyal to Prime Minister Maliki — and yet they took heavy casualties, had to be bailed out of firefights, and according to Browne, showed “fragility” under fire. (Nice euphemism, that.) If that’s how the 14th performed, what does that say about the rest of the Iraqi army?
Nothing good, unfortunately. If we’re not going to stand down until the Iraqi army stands up, it looks like we’ve got a helluva long wait ahead of us.