The Iraqi Interior Ministry has released the official numbers on the number of police and soldiers dismissed in the aftermath of the fighting in Basra. At first glance, the numbers may be surprising: 500 soldiers and 421 police, including 37 senior police officers, were dismissed for failing to fight the Mahdi Army or for deserting their posts.
But looking at the overall numbers and the performance of the Iraqi security forces in the recent past, these numbers aren't all that concerning. There are over 16,000 police and 14,000 soldiers deployed in Basra, which means that a little more than two percent of the police and three percent of the soldiers either defected or abandoned their posts. There is no breakdown on how many soldiers and police defected to the Mahdi Army, and how many stopped fighting out of fear for their families or the poor performance of their leadership.
If the past performance of the Iraqi security forces is any guide, most of the defections will have come from the police ranks. Most of the Iraqi Army failures appear to have occurred within a single battalion from the 52nd Brigade of the 14th Iraqi Army Division, the youngest unit in the Army.
The 52nd Brigade is far from "one of [the Iraqi Army's] best--and also one of the most loyal to Prime Minister Maliki," as reported by Kevin Drum at CBS News. The formation of the 14th Division has been rushed by the Ministry of Defense because of the security situation in Basra. The division was not due to be stood up until June 2008.
One added benefit of the Basra operation is the Iraqi Army and the police have learned much about the loyalty and fighting capability of their forces and the level of infiltration by the Mahdi Army. Only small numbers of soldiers and police either underperformed or defected. The Sadrists claim they have wide support in the Shia South, but this support does not appear to extend to the security forces operating in Basra.