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Who Will Control Basra? | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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The British have handed over Basra to the Iraqis  or at least we hope that they are real Iraqis. The truth will be revealed in the next few days. Basra is the most critical test for Iraq’s future and I would not be exaggerating if I said that it was more important than Baghdad. Not only will it determine the future of all Iraqis, Basra is also the true test of Iraq’s independence, unity and the effective authority of the Iraqi citizen.

The reason is that Basra is Iraq’s main port. Geographically it is the most important city in close proximity to the Iranian borders and the one with the most demographic clashes with it. It reminds me of Tangiers in Morocco which was a centre of a long international conflict that compelled the powers [involved at the time] to resolve the dispute by making it a city that was simultaneously governed by three foreign powers.

Basra, like Tangiers, is a meeting point that attracts and repels regional and international forces. It is the oil capital and the final and only passage to the sea, in addition to neighboring states with which it has severe political disputes; Iran, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.

Basra’s market draws together the tribes in the region, oil companies, the Sunni and Shia leaderships and Iraq’s major militias. Historically, it has always been a battlefield.

If the Iraqis can succeed in making it a city with an Iraqi identity and if they can ensure that its administration follows the headquarters in Baghdad, then it will be a sign portending unity and independence. However; if it falls into the pit of conflict or if it becomes inclined towards any regional power, especially Iran which has been reinforcing its influence in Iraq over the past two years, then it will be a bad omen for Iraq which will be divided and weak and perhaps even embroiled in a continuous conflict.

This is why, in my opinion, Basra is the compass for Iraq’s new history and the most critical test for the incumbent Iraqi leadership. Through Basra it will be truly demonstrated whether the regional states, including Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Iran and other concerned states, can agree to make Basra, and all of southern Iraq, purely Iraqi.

With my reference to Saudi and Egypt, I meant provided that those two countries are willing to exert pressure on Iran to uphold that southern Iraq must be fully Iraqi and governed by Baghdad. And Baghdad should be left to govern through its new political mechanisms that were chosen by the majority in Iraq through elections, because that is the best solution.

There is no other solution left for the Iraqis save the elected regime that is governed by the constitution. The constitution protects the minorities by its laws, which set the fundamental laws in an Iraq ‘for all’. In accordance with this constitution, the majority will not be undermined and neither will the minorities be persecuted. It also means peace for Iraq instead of the Iraqis living through a hundred years of war to come.

If all the forces concerned for the safety, stability and unity of Iraq are left with only this option, which commenced three years ago [the political process] and not a single person can fathom the nature of Iraq and its social make-up or propose a better solution (regardless of our view of who wins or loses) then it is a matter that must be left to the Iraqis themselves.

Therefore Basra, not Baghdad, in my opinion, represents the key for Iraq’s future. If the clashing internal forces are satisfied with the local government, in accordance with the Iraqi regime, then they would implicitly have abandoned the concept of militia rule, which foreshadows a long war between the various Shia parties, and a war between the tribal clans as well.

Moreover, if the regional and international states accepted Basra as being affiliated to Baghdad then it would have protected itself against future conflicts.

As such, more attention must be given to Basra as it is Iraq’s real pulse.