Iraq Report: Battle For Basra

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Jared Young

WASHINGTON D.C.-The Institute for the Study of War (ISW), in conjunction with The Weekly Standard, today published Iraq Report:The Battle for Basra, the ninth report in a series of Iraq Reports produced by ISW. The report outlines what caused the southern Iraqi port city to fall prey to heavy militia activity, why the city is a strategic stronghold for economic and political interests, why Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki took action to secure Basra, how Iraqi Forces regained control of the city, and the dangers that could lie ahead. The full report can be found at

"While lasting success is not assured and many important challenges still exist, the gains in Basra over the last few months are significant and palpable,” said Battle for Basra author Marisa Cochrane. “The operations in Basra illustrate the progress made by Iraqi Security Forces, but also reveal the obstacles to their development that still remain."

Iraq Report: Battle for Basra - Points of Interest

Ø Pressure from rival Iraqi political factions, Basra’s political and economic significance, and upcoming provincial elections pushed Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to reclaim the city from militias.

Ø The Basra offensive was the first time the Shi’a led Iraqi government directly challenged Shi’a militias in a military operation. The action against the militias strengthened Prime Minister Maliki’s political position.

Ø Despite a shaky start, operations conducted by Iraqi Security Forces to clear large areas of Basra showed how the Iraqi Army has improved over the past year.

Ø The Iraqi Army sent reinforcements to Basra from all over the country, including from predominantly Sunni areas such as Anbar Province. The Iraqi Security Forces can now deploy units from one area of the country to another on a quick notice, a new capability that they have developed this past year. The large increase in the Iraqi Security Forces, which had added 100,000 personnel over the past year, also made the operation possible. Once reinforcements arrived in Basra, the clearing of the city occurred quickly.

Ø The operation also revealed planning problems, inadequate assessment of the enemy forces, and personnel problems with the Iraqi Security Forces. These are not unique problems, but they will take time to address.

Ø The residents of Basra have regained their freedom from the oppressive hard-line Islamic elements that had controlled the city.

Ø Since the operation, jobs have been created in Basra, the Iraqi government has had opportunity to work with tribal leaders there, and increased numbers of Basra residents have joined the Iraqi Security Forces to help provide security in their city.

Ø Still, corruption, high unemployment, and a lack of basic services are a problem.

Ø The militias and Iranian-backed fighters have suffered great losses, but not total defeat. They have likely gone underground to regroup and evade the current security crackdown. This has made the security gains tentative. The Iraqi Security Forces will have to preserve their gains by continuing to secure the city over the coming months.

Ø Islamist political parties remain in power and threaten the historically moderate, secular order.

Ø The success of upcoming provincial elections could be in danger if security gains are not retained.

Ø It is important to continue full-spectrum counterinsurgency operations in Basra – conducting both security operations and political and economic reconstruction efforts.

As Research Manager at ISW, Cochrane has written several backgrounders and commentaries on Iraq. Her research focus includes security operations in Baghdad and Basra, as well as Shi’a militia activity throughout central and southern Iraq. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in International Studies from Boston College, where she held a Presidential Scholarship and won the prestigious McCarthy Award for her scholarship in the Social Sciences. Cochrane also studied at the London School of Economics.

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