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Basra raid reveals tortured prisoners . . . and the debacle of Iraqi governance

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This story on a raid made by British and Iraqi forces on the offices of an Iraqi government intelligence agency is fascinating and instructive. First there's the obvious point that official Iraqi government security/intelligence forces are doing Bad Things like holding detainees without due process and torturing them (and yes, while our current administration has embraced -- and codified! -- such tactics, they're still Bad). It's important to recognize that while the north (huge Kurdish majority) and south (huge Shia majority) are much more stable than mixed Baghdad and the Sunni west, that reflects homogeneity more than some kind of general benevolence. In Iraq, where there's little open fighting, that relative calm probably masks abuse of minority groups, authoritarian tactics, corrupt governance, and intra-sectarian squabbles. In the north, the two major Kurdish parties went to war as recently as the mid-1990s, and in the south, Shia parties (Virtue, SCIRI, and, increasingly, Sadrists) jostle for political supremacy and the huge oil revenues that come with it. The local controls that have developed are hardly beneficent, but we don't hear much about the problems unless Coalition forces happen to stumble upon them.

Which they apparently did in this case, with British troops and Iraqi special forces working together on the raid. If the story wasn't interesting enough already, however, it seems that the Iraqi government was not aware of the operation . . . and is now incensed about it. For a government to be unaware of the actions of its special forces is, to put it mildly, unusual and worrisome. Prime Minister Maliki issued a furious statement condemning the raid, stressing "the need to punish those who have carried out this illegal and irresponsible act." The detainees reportedly included a woman and two children, making the claim that these were hardened insurgents even more dubious. For the Iraqi government to be in conflict with Coalition forces is problematic, but to rail against a joint Iraqi operation is pretty unbelievable.

The article also talks about the ongoing operations in Baghdad, hinting at -- though not saying outright -- the fact that Sadrists were warned far in advance, are putting up no fight, and are largely staying out of the way until the operation is over and they can go back. We don't have the troops (or the desire) to police Sadr City forever, so they'll just wait it out. In the meantime, while the goal of the escalation was ostensibly to buy time for the Iraqi government to do some good, the ruling coalition is on the verge of splintering rather than moving ahead.

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