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Teaching Notes for Basra: Strategic Dilemmas and Escalation of Force Options, by John Hodgson.

The events in Basra in the spring of 2003 illustrate a “hybrid” conflict with elements of conventional and unconventional warfare: humanitarian assistance, managing IDPs, security operations with multiple state and nonstate actors, all occurring simultaneously in the same geographic area and period of time. In that regard, the situation in Basra in late March and early April 2003 presented a worst-case scenario both for military commanders and civilian leadership. Thus, this case represents a challenging test-bed, a vehicle for students to discuss the dilemmas and issues facing the key actors and decision-makers, and to develop a plan—including aspects of the strategic, operational, and tactical levels of warfare—with the benefit of hindsight, to bring the situation to an acceptable conclusion quickly and efficiently.

The purpose of this case is to explore the military and reconstruction options available to the British in the early stages of the Basra operation. However, it is interesting to ask the question: If the British had pursued civil-based options in late March and early April in Basra, would the experience of the subsequent years have worked out differently? The purpose is not to discuss the legitimacy of the Iraq War, the British involvement therein, or the decisions, largely American, in the early planning stages of the war. As tempting as it will be for some students to engage in those discussions, the instructor should steer students away from those arguments and focus on the problems facing the British at Basra. The instructor should discuss U.S. and UK national interests and coalition strategic objectives in an earlier class and, more importantly, should emphasize to students that they are role-playing military leaders in this case study. They have been given a job to do and must objectively identify and address the critical issues with the resources available.