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Dispatches from Basra II

Another letter from the source in the British Army stationed in Basra.

I am sorry about the handwriting but I am very tired, haven’t slept much for a couple of days. I keep getting woken up in the night to reach to events because they want my input on what I know and I work long hours to begin with. But it is absolutely fascinating. I love the work out here. The patrolling is interesting although I do not get to do much of that, but the work I am doing now is great.

I am ‘interviewing’ people to find things out, using as much knowledge of Arabic culture as possible and in the long term cases ‘getting inside their heads’. With each one, it is like a performance in which you try to build a connection, a friendship, so you must find the things you agree on. At the same time you must keep a core that is remote and calculating, wondering why is he telling me this, what is his motivation?

A lot of the rest of the time I am analysing information, explaining it to others and briefing, dealing with ‘specialist agencies’. Sometimes I get to go find some things out myself, ‘discreetly’. And I also work out what we should do to catch the enemy, and recommend it. Yesterday afternoon we carried out an op [ed. operation] based on a suggestion from me to hurt the oil smugglers. Normally, we catch at very best a tanker. Yesterday we caught four and two ships. A team effort, but my idea, so satisfying. The idea is now being continued. Prison sentences last one day so don’t deter these people but losing that much stuff will hurt!

I was called in to co-ordinate the actual capture (or rather what to do once we got them). I made the decisions, ‘interviewed’ people through my interpreter, made the plan and even kept the smugglers reasonably co-operative. That is what I call a good day’s work.

8 comments to Dispatches from Basra II

  • T. Hartin

    Keep the Dispatches coming!

    A shame none of the smugglers tried to resist, though. (I infer this from the unfortunate fact that all of them apparently survived). This is probably a tribute to the well-earned reputation for lethality that the troops no doubt enjoy by this point.

  • Jacob

    What business is it of the British Army to stop smuggling (oil, not arms) ? It shows they have no graver concerns which is good, but leave the smugglers alone. It is not the business of the Brits to enforce unsavory economic regulations. (Unless there is some better explanation to this that I ignore).

  • Jacob, it’s stolen oil. Smugglers are nicking it directly from the Iraqi oil wells. They are nothing more than looters. And yes, the British Army is there to restore the infrustructure, which includes economic and legal order.

  • Brian Micklethwait

    Thank you Perry.

    I was thinking to myself: What’s the world coming to? – Customs Officers writing for Samizdata.


  • Tony

    Please keep these coming, I’m very interested in what the troops are up to out there and think that reports like this will only serve to show them that they do have suppor at home.

  • Julian Morrison

    Yanno, there used to be another name for smugglers, “free traders”.

    Oil nicked from the wells? Maybe. Whose wells? Or are these nationalized plunder to begin with? (And therefore IMO up for rightful grabs by any plundered citizen.)

  • Julian: Rubbish. What you are suggesting is not free market, it is warlordism… rule by whoever has the most armed thugs.

  • Jacob

    Smuggling is how economies work where no normal conditions exist, with guaranties for private property, a set of rules, and just law enforcement. Smuggling is done to overcome barriers inposed on econimic activity, ususlly by some thugs or warlords or governments, as the case may be.
    Smuggling was probably the normal mode of operation of the Iraqi economy (coupled with bribing the appropiate thugs).
    I know nothing about Iraq.
    Still I would say – before you abruptly stop things that used to be done – you have to understand fully what you are doing, and make sure some alternate mechanism is in place. I’m afraid of too hasty an implementation of correct notions, to an environment that might not be adequate for them.
    Still, it’s possible that what is beeing done is the right thing, but I’m just not sure.