Thanks to an assist from Michael Yon, I was able to interview Lt. Colonel Patrick Sanders, commanding officer of Fourth Battalion the Rifles, stationed near Basra. The full transcript is here. The audio is here. Key graphs:
HH: Thanks for your service. Can you give us, because there’s a lot of reporting that Basra’s in chaos, and gone to hell in a hand basket since you folks have changed your deployment. What is the situation in Basra right now?
PS: Well, I don’t know where the reporting’s coming from. The situation that we see here is that Basra is pretty stable. When we were serving down in the Palace during the period from about May when we first arrived here until just at the beginning of September when we left, for the vast majority of that period, except for the last two weeks, it was hell in a hand basket. We took somewhere in the region of 2,000 rounds of indirect fire, we got hit by about 100 IED’s, and it’s pretty much 100% chance of getting involved in a firefight every time we went out. But 90% of that violence was directed against us and the Iraqi leadership in the form of, if you like, the security czar down here, a guy called General Mohan, who told us that we were part of the problem. We were confusing Shia loyalties, and that if they could, if he could deliver a ceasefire, the most constructive thing we could do would be to withdraw and to leave it to the Iraqi Security Forces to handle. And since we’ve withdrawn, violence in Basra has dropped down to, well, very, very low levels.
HH: Now behind that calm, is there a giving over of the city to radical Shia militias? Or is the Iraqi Security Forces stepping up and standing in?
PS: I don’t see the militias trying to exercise or fighting at the moment. Are the Iraqi Security Forces perfect? No, far from it. But what we’ve got is for the first time, probably, in the last four years, we’ve got some decent Iraqi leadership. We’ve got two generals, one in charge of the police, and one in overall command, who are both pretty determined to remain loyal to the central government. And they’ve effectively purged about 3,000 policemen and members of the armed forces out here, from the Iraqi armed forces, who are locals, and who really have been infiltrated, and have had loyalty to the militias rather than to the Security Forces. They’ve gone now. And increasingly, the balance of power lies with the Iraqi Security Forces rather than with the militias. It’s worth saying, though, that the militias, at the moment, are operating under pretty much a self-imposed ceasefire, so the situation is calm at the moment. It could break down again. As each day passes, we get a sense that, as I say, the balance of power is passing to the Iraqi Security Forces. And we can always re-intervene, if it’s necessary.
I covered a lot of subjects with Colonel Sanders, who spent four years in Baghdad as a boy when he father was stationed at the British embassy just as Saddam was coming to power. Read the whole interview, but here’s one exchange on the media’s role in the war:
HH: Does the British media underserve the British military in Iraq the way that the American media underserves the American military in Iraq, Col. Sanders?
PS: That’s a political question. I think it’s fair to say that a lot of the British media have an agenda. They took a view fairly early on about this war, and they serve the military well in that they report the courage. They are loyal and faithful to the courage of the armed forces. There’s no questioning that. But they do chip away at the country’s confidence and commitment to the war in the longer term. Whether that’s right or wrong, I’m not the one to judge. But it’s sometimes difficult serving in an unpopular war.
At least the British media is “loyal and faithful to the courage of the armed forces.” With a few exceptions like the amazing John Burns, the MSM is generally AWOL on that aspect of the war, which is why men like Michael Yon are so crucial to understanding the victory that is being won there by men like Colonel Sanders.