Back last week, I started writing a post about Basra. I forgot about it, and so now I’m returning to a half-congealed mess and trying to squeeze it into shape without covering myself in filth.
To recap: last week Nuri Al-Maliki declared a [state of emergency](http://www.guardian.co.uk/international/story/0,,1786890,00.html) over Basra, scheduled to last for the next month. One of many Iraqi politicians spectacularly worried about the situation in the city, he bragged that he was going to crush insurgents with an ‘iron fist’. It would be unfairly snarky to point at the [90 people killed or injured](http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/5044720.stm) by a car bomb on Saturday, wouldn’t it?
It’s very easy to overlook the lower-level nastiness that’s been going on in Basra since 2003. But however much violence there was, it didn’t reach the current level, with 140 recorded deaths in May, and doubtless many more that went unreported. The spark came early that month, when a British helicopter crashed, and was soon surrounded by an angry crowd which became a riot. Paul Wood tries to explain away the riot like this:
Basra is like that, changing in the blink of an eye from hostility to warmth and back again. It is almost as if the city can’t make up its mind whether it wants the British soldiers to stay or not.
Implausible as that may sound, I think he has a point. Things are bad in Basra – but they aren’t uniformly bad, this isn’t the first time they’ve been bad, and Maliki’s stance is motivated partly by PR, partly by national politics, and partly by concern about losing control of Basra’s oil infrastructure.
##Who does what?
There are several different fights going on in Basra, but they all revolve around the Badr Corps, the Mahdi Army, and smaller Shiite militia groups. They’re fighting each other, they’re fighting the British, and they’re using force to impose their moral standards on the population.
The Mahdi Army has a particularly long history of attacks on the Coalition – in Basra, the height of this came in May 2004.
I’ve no idea who was responsibe for the incident in 2005, when three female university students were apparently [killed](http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/4347636.stm) as punishment for not wearing the hijab. No wonder Basra is becoming ever more socially conservative!
The British and American governments blame the situation in part on Iran, which they [claim](http://www.realcities.com/mld/krwashington/14677922.htm) is training militants and supplying them with weapons
Then there’s the provincial government; I get the impression of a lot of drama going on there, which doesn’t really make it to British newspapers. Every now and again I hear that the governor or the council has resigned, or that it has stopped talking to the British. And then I don’t hear anything else about it, and I’m left feeling totally ignorant.
And what about the British? You always hear about their softly-softly approach, but what about last September, when they [drove a tank into a jail](http://www.guardian.co.uk/frontpage/story/0,,1769987,00.html) in a misguided attempt to bust out a couple of spies.
The other occasional argument is that the politics don’t matter – to understand Basra we just need to look at the economic base.
Back in 2004, food shortages caused anti-British riots. There isn’t currently anything quite as serious, but the economic situation is non-dramatically bad. The healthcare system is [in collapse](http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/4900174.stm), for example.