Skip to comments.Iraq: British, Iraq troops begin Basra mission
Posted on 09/27/2006 5:54:16 AM PDT by jmc1969
British and Iraqi troops set out Wednesday on an ambitious mission to pacify the southern city of Basra, root out its corrupt police and help the residents rebuild.
Some 2,300 Iraqi army troops and 1,000 British soldiers are taking part in "Operation Sinbad," with another 2,000 British troops deployed in the surrounding area, said British forces spokesman Maj. Charlie Burbridge.
The troops swept into a southeastern section of the city, Iraq`s second-largest, at about 5:30 a.m. Eventually they will move through the entire city in an operation expected to take months, Burbridge said in a telephone interview from southern Iraq.
"We`re gradually inching our way forward. Ultimately our aim here is to take Basra to a place where it can be turned over to Iraqi control," he said.
In June, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki declared a state of emergency in Basra following a rise in violence among mostly Shiite groups competing for power. Basra is 340 miles southeast of the capital, about 30 from the Iranian border.
Since January 2005, the city has fallen under the influence of Shiite militias, which have infiltrated police and government institutions there.
By Damien McElroy
The Telegraph (UK)
The British Army deployed thousands of troops on to Basra streets yesterday in an operation to re-establish control over a city that has been swept by a wave of lawlessness and militia infiltration.
Ministry of Defence officials said 3,000 British soldiers, a third of whom were dispatched into the city with 2,000 Iraqi troops, were engaged in Operation Sinbad, an ambitious campaign to rid the city of its thieves and rogue officials.
The operation aims to crack down on lawlessness
They will also work with local officials and communities to tackle problems ranging from organised crime to poor infrastructure. Basra's redevelopment has stalled in the past two years.
"There are two main objectives," said an MoD spokesman. "One is to improve the infrastructure and living conditions of Basra city itself and the second is to try and tackle the known individuals who are working on behalf of criminal elements."
The operation is expected to last until February, at which point the Army hopes to be able to say Iraqi officials are ready to assume full control.
Britain has handed two provinces to Iraqi control since July. Troops are being steadily reduced in a third and Japanese and Italian contingents under British command are being withdrawn.
The most pressing problem is the stranglehold of Shia militias on Basra's police force in some districts. Criminal gangs controlled by powerful local factions, linked to Shia religious leaders and Iran, have infiltrated Basra's institutions. Police and others on the city payroll often conspire against the British presence, immobilising official reconstruction efforts.
A spokesman said troops had orders to deal harshly with rogue police stations.
Operation Sinbad will be spearheaded by transition teams of Royal Military Police.
They are to be inserted into police stations throughout the southern Iraqi city for 30 days at a time, accompanied by Iraqi counterparts. It is a reprise of the hearts and minds strategy that British forces tried to implement, with initial success, when the city fell in 2003.
Yesterday the Army put the reconstruction aspect of Sinbad on display. With soft hats and shovels, troops marched on to playgrounds to level out football pitches and fix goalposts. Iraqi contractors and labourers have been hired to undertake rebuilding projects. At Uruba school it was reported that an Iraqi soldier mended a window as a British squaddie painted a gate.
The MoD spokesman stressed that disciplinary action was in the pipeline. "We are focusing on rehabilitating and culling if necessary the Iraqi police force," he said. "The Iraqi police force in southern Iraq, in particular Basra, has been infiltrated by militia. What we will be left with is a smaller, more capable Iraqi police force."
Amyas Godfrey, a consultant at Blue Hackle, a risk assessment firm, said Operation Sinbad represented the British Army's final big push to establish peace and stability in Basra. By inserting troops in local communities, the Army hoped to force local officials to choose between the city government and the militias.
"Insurgents need criminal operations to fund their activities and they have found it useful to infiltrate power centres like the police," he said. "This is an attempt to break people from their previous affiliation or break their power. Initially the strategy is not confrontation but to show leniency where people are co-operating, but to have the support and the back-up to root out those that react in the wrong way."
March 2003: British attempt "hearts and minds" campaign in Basra following the invasion of Iraq.
March 2004: Supporters of Shia cleric Moqtadr al-Sadr launch fierce attacks against British forces.
Sept 2005: Two SAS soldiers seized by rogue police. Freed from a Basra jail by British forces using Warrior armoured cars. Troops then attacked in worst riots for two years.
May 2006: The city's deadliest month since the 2003 invasion sees nine British soldiers killed, including five personnel killed when their Lynx helicopter crashed after being hit by a rocket.
June 2006: Nouri al-Maliki, the Iraqi prime minister, declares a state of emergency in Basra after a rise in violence among mostly Shia groups competing for power.
Sept 2006: Operation Sinbad launched to reclaim the streets.