Wednesday, September 21, 2005

British Rescue Complicates Iraq Situation

Iraqis took to the streets today, angrily protesting the rescue of two British soldiers from a Basra jail. (ABC: Iraqis in Basra Slam 'British Aggression'). The reaction of local Iraqis is certainly understandable, since the British rescue mission calls into question the sovereignty and legitimacy of the Iraqi government. On the other hand, I fully understand the British response, and would likely support a similar American rescue mission were those our soldiers in that jail.

Unfortunately, this action lends far too much support to the insurgents and the more hard-line Muslim governments that accuse the Iraqi government of being puppets to the US and Britain. It certainly complicates an already difficult mission in Iraq. Discretion being the better part of valor, sacrificing those two soldiers for the greater political good may well have been the better approach. That sounds harsh, but the political fallout resulting from the rescue may prove more costly than one might imagine.

Of more concern is the British claim that the soldiers were not in the jail when their forces raided, but had already been moved to a private home used by the Shiite militia. Shiite militias in that region have close ties to Iran and have become increasingly problematic as Iraq struggles to ratify a constitution. The governor of Basra has threatened to terminate all cooperation with the British - a relationship that has always been tenuous - unless the British government apologizes for the raid. This over reaction on the part of the Basra government is more likely out of deference to the Shiite militia, which poses more of a threat to their well being than do the British troops patrolling the region.

All of this underscores the very fragile nature of the Iraqi government, that status of coalition troops in Iraq, and the viability of the proposed but unratified constitution. Confrontations of this nature are inevitable. The impact they have on a government that has yet to take root can be devastating. Worse yet, confrontations like this in the Shiite controlled regions could drive that faction into the growing Iran versus US / EU confrontation that is brewing over nuclear research. The Shiite faction is already sympathetic towards Iran. Open confrontation with coalition troops as seen yesterday and today may well be all it takes to scuttle any hope of a compromise constitution. At best, it may result in an Iraqi government that is Shiite controlled and hostile to the West.


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