Reports suggest that the Iraqi Army in Basra is not advancing and is being stalemated by Mahdi Army fighters in their drive to take the city to advantage the Maliki central government. As James Joyner notes there are problems with the Iraqi Army that are very familiar to anyone who has paid attention to it when the Iraqi Army or National Guard or whatever it is called is asked to perform high intensity operations:
Reports on NPR this morning say the Iraqi Army is vastly outmanned and outgunned. Further, there have been cases — how many is unclear — of Iraqi soldiers taking off their uniforms and joining the enemy. That doesn't exactly inspire confidence.
Besides desertions and defections, another significant problem is force ratios. During the Second Battle of Fallujah, the US attacking forces were composed of a composite division as six battalions led the main attack, another battalion as a diversion force, and two battalions as local reserves. Additionally an Iraqi Army brigade was present as a mop-up/press release force. The defending forces would have been the equivlant of two or three battalions of light infantry and local insurgents/neighborhood militias. Fallujah was a city of roughly 300,00 residents before the assault. And this assualt was supported by theatre level artillery and air support. And despite this large armored and heavy infantry force with excellent air support, plenty of helicopter mobility and firepower, superior logistics, the defending force was able to inflict heavy absolute and proportional casualties --- roughly 10% of the US force was wounded or killed, and many infantry companies saw 30% to 50% casualty levels.
The Iraqi Army force in Basra is a single division of lightly supported infantry with some US/UK locally controlled air support, minimal artillery, minimal aviation support. Basra is a city of 2.6 million people (2003) and it is overwhelmingly Shi'ite. If one assumes that one half of one percent of the male population are available to be called up for Mahdi Army fighting units, the defenders have numerical parity with the attacking force. That is never a good thing, especially when the defenders are on their own grounds, fighting from prepared positions in dense urban networks and have higher morale and more firepower than the attackers.
So again --- why was this attacked launched with what looks to be massively insuffucient force levels on the part of the Iraqi Army? Was it pure staff stupidity/buying into your own propaganda that the JAM is a bunch of thugs with no popular support? Was it that the 14th Division was the only reliable division? Was it a hope that the introduction of a large force would destablize the local equilibriums of power and thus prompt local Badr and Fadillah militia attacks?