Saturday, December 23, 2006

The fog of war

The British Army has launched yet another huge raid in Basra but, with the city still far too dangerous for independent Western journalists, details are sparse, unlike the raid on 8 December, when the MoD was more forthcoming.

Even then, we were only being told what the Army wanted us to know and, currently, much of the detail is being channelled through a favoured and therefore untrustworthy source. All we can be certain of, therefore, is that a raid happened.

The bare details seem to be that hundreds of troops were involved – the figure varies from 800 to "over a thousand" – backed, we are told, by tanks. The troops are said to have seized seven Iraqi police officers suspected of corruption and leading a death squad in the city.

The operation, carried out at dawn yesterday, is said to be the first stage of moves to disrupt and disband the southern city's Serious Crime Unit. The British military spokesman, Major Charlie Burbridge, claims a "significant" member of the unit was captured. No shots were fired and there were no casualties, he adds. Some damage was done to property (see above picture) but, again, details are sketchy.

Burbridge says the police officer was suspected of links to an incident in October, when gunmen ambushed a minibus carrying police translators, trainers and cleaning workers from a police academy to Basra. The Telegraph also claims links with the capture of two SAS soldiers last year.

Despite this, it is difficult to assess what is going on in the city. This article from Arab News gives some background, from which one senses a powder keg waiting to explode.

All we can do is watch and wait, trying to unravel what little information is forthcoming. But this is not a satisfactory way of trying to understand something that is so important to our national interest. We really do need better sources of information – the "fog of war", it seems, is thicker than that at Heathrow.


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