I wanted to echo John’s point: Critics of the Iraq war took the episode in Basra and wanted to use it to change the narrative from one of progress to one of failure. But what happened in Basra, while not without its problems, may turn out to be a positive achievement.
There’s no doubt that when Maliki went into Basra, he was unprepared for the difficulty of the task and overestimated what the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) could achieve. But after the chaos of the first several days, the situation has stabilized. U.S. forces have assisted the Iraqis, greater coordination has taken place, and things appear to be on a much better course.
Among the good things that have happened is that the Iraqis showed they were able to move some 10,000 troops across Iraq in a quick and orderly fashion. It’s true that some of the Iraqis who were locally recruited did poorly, but the ISF overall performed pretty well. Kurds, Sunnis, and Shiites not loyal to Muqtada al Sadr rallied around Maliki. The Prime Minister is actually stronger politically than he was before the Basra operation.
In addition, the Turks are impressed that Maliki, a Shiite, was willing to go after Shia militia. The Arab Gulf States, who never imagined Maliki would do such a thing, have also gained respect for him. In addition, the Basra operation drove home to Maliki, in a vivid and even in a personal way, the extent to which Iran is supporting the Jaysh al Mahdi (JAM) and the “special groups” (meaning extreme Shia militia) in Iraq.
One of the important tactical efforts now taking place in Iraq is that we are attempting to drive a wedge within the Shia militia–which may be our top concern in the aftermath of the punishing blows we have dealt to Al Qaeda in Iraq.
During the Congressional testimonies of General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker a few weeks ago, Democrat after Democrat cited Basra as an example of all that has gone wrong in Iraq. Petraeus and Crocker patiently explained to them what was unfolding in Basra was a good deal more nuanced and textured than members of Congress understood. It made little difference. Senators and Representatives were there to posture, not to learn.
Basra may turn out to be an important, and even vital, moment in the evolution of Nuri al-Maliki as a leader. Critics of the war, ever eager to latch on to any bad news in Iraq, are now at the point where they need to manufacture setbacks in order to promote their narrative. But eventually the truth emerges–and sometimes the reputations of journalists and other critics suffer in the process.