Iraq: The Battle of Basra

As the Iraqi police checkpoint in Basra loomed up ahead, the two elite British special forces soldiers – dressed in plainclothes, i.e., traditional Arab dress – readied their weapons. For some reason, they weren’t too eager to be questioned or examined too closely. As the [UK] Independent reports:

“In the confrontation that followed, shots were fired, and two Iraqi policemen were shot, one of whom later died. The Iraqi authorities blamed the men, reported to be undercover commandos, and arrested them.

“Mohammed al-Abadi, an official in the Basra governorate said that the two men had looked suspicious to police. ‘A policeman approached them and then one of these guys fired at him. Then the police managed to capture them,’ he said. ‘They refused to say what their mission was. They said they were British soldiers and [suggested they] ask their commander about their mission,’ he added.”

The Brits were hauled off to the hoosegow, where their minor wounds were dressed – and word of the incident spread quickly across the city. A British tank on routine patrol was surrounded and pelted with stones.

The British response: the iron fist. Tanks moved on the Basra police headquarters as a crowd began to gather. Soon hundreds of Basrans were at the scene, as Shi’ite Paul Reveres called out the Iraqi equivalent of “The British are coming!”

Outgunned, the Iraqis stood their ground as frantic negotiations went on behind the scenes, with the Brits demanding the release of their two spies and the police – under pressure from the surly crowd gathered outside – continuing to delay and refuse, even when the Interior Ministry in Baghdad intervened on behalf of the Brits. The standoff quickly escalated into an all-out pitched battle, pitting the Iraqi police and the residents of Basra against the redcoats in what will go down in Iraqi history as their equivalent of the Battle of Lexington and Concord.

“In a clear demonstration that the holding of the soldiers would not be tolerated” – as The Independent puts it – the British commander gave the order to attack the police station. His tanks brought down an entire wall before they found out the two captured Brits were being held at a nearby house: the captives were freed, but none of this occurred without resistance and some pretty dramatic television footage, which was broadcast via al-Jazeera and al-Arabiyah all over the Muslim world, as well as the West. By this time, the crowd was serving up Molotov cocktails, and news crews got a dramatic shot of a soldier aflame as he leapt off his tank and ran off in a hail of stones. A citywide riot followed, in which at least two Iraqis were killed and several injured.

The unraveling of the Anglo-American occupation of Iraq has been going on for some time: with the recent battle of Basra, however, it seems to have reached the point of no return. The coalition forces are no longer fighting just Sunni insurgents – they are coming up against the elected Shi’ite authorities in the south, where the latest incident bodes ill for the occupiers.

The coalition propaganda campaign has already commenced, with the Brits claiming this is all the work of the evil Iranians, who are just trying to cause trouble because they’re being pressed on the nuke issue. That’s what the Times of London is peddling, at any rate. Yet this explanation is cut to shreds by Occam’s Razor, which suggests a simpler explanation for the outbreak of violence: local discontent with British actions, including the arrest of prominent members of the Sadrist party a few days before.

The Financial Times takes a shot at the local angle and frames the Basra events as stemming from a murky internecine struggle involving the various party militias, such as the Mahdi Army and the Badr Brigade. Yet this view overlooks an important point. The overwhelming majority of those blue-fingered voters in the south of Iraq, of which Basra is the hub, cast their votes for the parties behind the militias: the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), which sponsors the Badr Brigade, the Da’wa Party militia, and the Sadrists – supporters of Shi’ite firebrand Moqtada Sadr – whose armed wing is the Mahdi Army. These parties are not trying to seize power – they’re the elected authorities.

There is much talk of how the militias have “infiltrated” the Iraqi police, but this is nonsense. What is really happening is that the politicians who won the much vaunted elections, hailed by Bush and the War Party as a great step forward for “democracy” in Iraq, are not just taking office, they are taking power. They are also hiring their supporters – especially the ones who have military experience – as the local cops on the beat.

When these Iraqi cops ran into two undercover British soldiers who were “acting suspiciously,” according to the Iraqis, a battle ensued. The Brits objected so strenuously to being questioned by the legally constituted authorities that they preferred to shoot first and ask questions later.

Hmmmmm… Something tells me they were up to no good.

A series of attacks on coalition troops, as well as the murder of an Iraqi journalist employed by the New York Times, have been attributed to the party militias acting under color of authority, “posing” as police. The Times reporter was arrested at home, and his family was told that he would be taken down to the station only for an hour or so. His beaten body was found with several bullet holes in the head. Steven Vincent, the New York City art critic-turned-journalist, was also murdered by these assassins. Vincent, a war supporter who went to Iraq on behalf of “the cause,” was kidnapped and thrown into a white van marked “police.” His body was found a few days later, beaten and shot several times. Slain, as he was, by the very forces unleashed by America’s “victory” for Iraqi “democracy,” I noted at the time:

“In ‘liberated’ Iraq, the police are the criminals: instead of protecting people from harm by thugs, they are the thugs who inflict harm on others. It’s a Bizarro World rendition of law enforcement, albeit one that perfectly fits in to the upside-down logic – not to mention the inverted morality – of those who brought us this war.”

Taking the Bizarro World scenario a few steps further, we are now faced with the sight of the “liberators” fighting the “liberated.” And this isn’t the Sunni Triangle we’re talking about, but a Shi’ite rebellion against the Anglo-American usurpation of authority. The governor of Basra denounced the British attack as “barbaric, savage, and irresponsible.” We’re taking on the elected government, not just in Basra and the solid Shi’ite south, but also the federal authorities in Baghdad. A spokesman for Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari deplored the attack on police headquarters as “unfortunate,” and questioned whether the Interior Ministry was in any way involved. The same Associated Press story that reports al-Jaafari’s displeasure also reveals the extent of the duplicity engaged in by those liars in London:

“British officials initially claimed the men were released after negotiations. But Iraqi authorities and witnesses in Basra, about 340 miles southwest of Baghdad, said the British laid siege to the jail Monday afternoon and hours later, with rioting engulfing the area, smashed through its walls using armored vehicles.”

In contemplating this almost limitless capacity for deception, one is reminded of what Mary McCarthy, in an appearance on the Dick Cavett Show, said of Lillian Hellman, the Stalinist playwright:

“Every word she writes is a lie, including ‘and’ and ‘the.'”

In the Bizarro World universe we’ve been thrust into ever since 9/11/01 – when the force of the explosion that brought down the World Trade Center pushed us into an alternate and cruelly inverted reality – lies are truth, war is peace, freedom is slavery, and the function of government (and much of our media) is to keep everyone in almost total ignorance of what is really going on. Because, you see, ignorance is strength.

Incidents such as what happened in Basra are like lightning at midnight: the landscape, formerly covered in murk, is illuminated with shocking suddenness, its outline starkly visible if only for a brilliant moment. We can see, all to clearly, what this war is really about.

It isn’t about oil, although that was part of the long-range objective. Iraq’s wells are not flowing due to sabotage. Wolfowitz promised that oil revenues would cover the cost of the occupation, yet now the Iraqis must bring in refined oil from outside. It isn’t about “weapons of mass destruction”: that was a lie. It isn’t about “democracy,” either – that was yet another lie, unless the sinister theocracy emerging out of the rubble is the closest the Iraqis can come, which seems a bit harsh.

The rush to detect the long hand of Tehran in Basra shows the direction we are headed. Increased fighting along the border with Syria and charges emanating from Washington that Damascus is actively aiding the insurgency make the future all too clear. The Middle East escalator is going full speed ahead, and the portents of a regional war are all around us. This war is about provoking the next major war – with Iran, or perhaps Syria. Whichever comes first.

Author: Justin Raimondo

Justin Raimondo is editor-at-large at Antiwar.com, and a senior fellow at the Randolph Bourne Institute. He is a contributing editor at The American Conservative, and writes a monthly column for Chronicles. He is the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement [Center for Libertarian Studies, 1993; Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2000], and An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard [Prometheus Books, 2000].