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An explosively penetrated quagmire

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An explosively penetrated quagmire

By Mathew Maavak

The coalition of the willing is paving way for the unilateralism of the brave.

Britain is whittling down its 7,100 servicemen in Iraq into a mid-term force of 5,000. That matches the number of personnel aboard the few hundred yards of the USS Eisenhower which, along with an invasion fleet, is currently battling for space with oil tankers in the Persian Gulf.

As soundbites go, planned drawdowns from Britain and Denmark reflect the new democratic Iraq, with the professionalism of its army poised to spread organically from the southern provinces upwards.

When the invasion began in 2003, 40,000 British troops helped secure the four southern Iraqi provinces of Basra, Dhi Qar, Maysan and Muthanna. All of them were predominantly Shiite and therefore, as events proved, hospitable to Her Majesty's troops.

To date, the British death toll stands at 132 as compared to 3,154 US fatalities.

The Brits have a knack for picking the right spot, even in conflict. The map of Iraq is more geo-ethnic than anything, reflecting London's past legacy and future portents.

Basra and Maysan border Iran, but those realms have been secured into a state of de'tente until now. Basra also borders Kuwait, and serves as an overland logistical lifeline for Iraq's coalition forces.

So far, there has been no major disruption to the flow of coalition troops and ordnance. But in case unforeseen contretemps occur, there are alternate overland possibilities such as the Muthanna, Najaf and Anbar provinces bordering Saudi Arabia.

Upon looking at a map though, geographical possibilities turn to horror.

Pro-Iranian Shiite militias, particularly the Mahdi Army of Moqtada al-Sadr, are ready to fill the security vacuum in southern Iraq. And they are perilously close to the Saudi province of Ash Sharqiyah, where most of the kingdom's Shiite minority and oil fields are located.

Ultimately, a dwindling coalition has forged a formidable Persian-Shiite scythe.

It is not just the Aladdin Lamp of Ghawar, the Persian Gulf and the Straits of Hormuz cornered here, but the asymmetrical rise of an Iran that can hold the entire world to ransom.

Dick Cheney, the eminence grise of Washington's slam-dunk hard power, is viewing it all sub specie aeternitatis.

The withdrawal of the Brits is a "good thing." Better yet are the inbound 21,000 US troops who will complete the "mission."

If Iraqi Shiites prove too restive, or if they foment separatism in Saudi Arabia's Ash Sharqiyah - a tragedy for global oil cum economy -- then the extras will be ideally placed to engage the mother of all insurgencies, possibly in tandem with an outright US attack on Iran.

The Ides of March do not bode well. A techno-linguistic construct, Explosively Formed Penetrators (EFPs), was recently forged to frame Iran for 170 US fatalities.

It did not help matters that this smoking gun looked pretty much like the panzerfausts of the Third Reich, fired as they were from the bicycles of gangpressed children. The difference lay on laser switches filched from air-conditioners that may have otherwise nurtured cooler heads in the desert of discontent.

Few harangued President George W. Bush on how the other 3,000 US servicemen died. Who dares remind the president that his Arab allies are aiding and abetting in the murder of America's finest? It began with Sept 11, with Saudi Arabia contributing 15 of the 19 hijackers, and it continues through tomorrow in the explosively penetrated souks, mosques and schools of Iraq.

Logistics of Terror

Battling the most powerful army in the world is no easy task.

Jihadists need a weapons-chain, money-chain, and a franchise of safe houses. Sunni insurgents can't perform a Baghdad Airlift, or make a cargo-laden port of call in Shiite Basra. Northern Iraq is a geographically remote landmine populated by vengeful Kurds.

Attempts to blame Syria for infiltrations through its side of the Anbar border found few takers. The province is a vast Sunni militant stronghold that coincidentally borders Saudi Arabia as well.

It is a known fact that southern Iraq is a sluice gate for foreign militants and arms.

According to the July 20, 2004 BBC Online article Coalition troops in Iraq, the southern Shiite provinces were under the security stewardships of British and Polish commands, while the Americans took charge of the western Anbar province.

The first task of an invasion force, as any military tactician can tell you, would be to erect a cordon sanitaire. This golden rule was violated in a manner worthy of Machiavelli.

Iraq is awash with arms, with pundits tracing its source to the looted arsenals of Saddam Hussein. If true, this must be the Golconda of weaponry, the mother of all caches. The Afghan freedom fighters relied on US weaponry to wear down the Soviets. Conversely, the Vietnamese drove out the US Army with Soviet arms. The recent Ethiopian invasion of Somalia amply revealed the logistical constraints of a proper army.

In fact, the recipients of Saddam's arsenals were largely Iraqi Shiites who once served as force multipliers during the death throes of the Baathist regime. They now form the biggest component of the new Iraqi army and can dip into its American-supplied caches whenever there are moonlighting prospects from a favored militia.

In the event of a conflict with Iran, the best-trained and equipped component of the Iraqi Army can regroup along sectarian lines to battle US soldiers. The Western mind has yet to fathom the lines of communications wielded by Eastern clans, and the fealty demanded of bloodlines.

Explosively formed imponderables like these create an Axis of Fear, for the road to Tehran may meet a natural barricade in Basra and Maysan.

Isn't it timely then for the United States and Britain to parley with Iran and Syria at a Baghdad security summit on March 10? If this fails, the US armada in the Persian Gulf will come in handy for the prosecution of Gunboat Diplomacy, or total war itself.

Mathew Maavak is a journalist based in Malaysia. He had studied psychological warfare, propaganda, and crisis management at the University of Leeds. Contact him at
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Mathew Maavak is a journalist based in Malaysia. Contact him at
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