MESOP Iraq Situation Report: March 21-24, 2015 / by: Sinan Adnan,Patrick Martin and Omar al-Dulimi / ISW

Key Takeaway: The deployments of ISF units from the south to various fronts in western and northern Iraq between December 2013 and the present has caused a security vacuum in the southern provinces. This is especially true in Basra, where tribal rivalries have resulted recently in continued armed confrontations with security forces unable to contain them. On March 17, Commander of Basra Operations Command (BaOC) General Bassim al-Taei announced the formation of a new battalion to operate under the BaOc. The battalion is composed of members of private security companies, illustrating the lack of manpower available under the BaOC. Faced with these challenges, Defense Minister Khalid al-Obeidi announced his intention on March 21 to disarm “all parts” of Basra.

This decision is unlikely to be successfully implemented given the limited resources available. Also, this decision has faced opposition from local officials closely affiliated with Iraqi Shi’a militias. Ahmed al-Sultani, a leader of the Badr Organization in the local government, and Karim Nouri, a spokesperson for the “Popular Mobilization,” both rejected the notion of disarming the entire province. Basra was the site of intense clashes between the ISF and militias in 2008 when former PM Nouri al-Maliki ordered an operation after the growing size and influence of the militias threatened the state. The central government will likely be faced with similar challenges in the future if the threat of ISIS is successfully addressed. Other factors have also had a destabilizing influence. Basra is home to the vital Um Qasir port, where different business and political rivalries sometimes manifest in violent ways. Additionally, many Basrawis are supportive of an independent Basra region citing weak political representation and poor service provision given the province’s relative economic vibrancy. Politically, the local government of Basra may see changes to its political representation. Although currently headed by a member of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI), the State of Law Alliance of former PM Maliki is looking to make changes. On March 19, 2015, Hussam Abu al-Hil, a spokesperson for the State of Law Alliance (SLA) in Basra, noted that three members from other blocs have joined the Badr Organization, a component of the SLA. He claimed that this gives the SLA 19 out of 35 seats, sufficient to enact changes in the local government.