The British forces in southern Iraq have totally lost control of Basra. They will fight their way out of Iraq in about a month.
What US generals see, however, is a close ally preparing to "cut and run", leaving behind a city in the grip of a power struggle between Shia militias that could determine the fate of the Iraqi government and the country as a whole. With signs of the surge yielding tentative progress in Baghdad, but at the cost of many American lives, there could scarcely be a worse time for a parting of the ways. Yet the US military has no doubt, despite what Gordon Brown claims, that the pullout is being driven by "the political situation at home in the UK".
A senior US officer familiar with Gen Petraeus's thinking said: "The short version is that the Brits have lost Basra, if indeed they ever had it. Britain is in a difficult spot because of the lack of political support at home, but for a long time - more than a year - they have not been engaged in Basra and have tried to avoid casualties.
"They did not have enough troops there even before they started cutting back. The situation is beyond their control.
"Quite frankly what they're doing right now is not any value-added. They're just sitting there. They're not involved. The situation there gets worse by the day. Americans are disappointed because, in their minds, this thing is still winnable. They don't intend to cut and run."
Two generals told The Independent on Sunday last week that the military advice given to the Prime Minister was, "We've done what we can in the south [of Iraq]". Commanders want to hand over Basra Palace – where 500 British troops are subjected to up to 60 rocket and mortar strikes a day, and resupply convoys have been described as "nightly suicide missions" – by the end of August. The withdrawal of 500 soldiers has already been announced by the Government. The Army is drawing up plans to "reposture" the 5,000 that will be left at Basra airport, and aims to bring the bulk of them home in the next few months.
Some of the articles claim the US will have to send more forces to southern Iraq to protect the supply convoys coming up from Kuwait.
Civil war may escalate between Shia factions in southern Iraq. I figure the winning faction will either some day control all of Arab Iraq or at least will control the Shia Arab section of Iraq.
One US official said that recent US military intelligence reports sent to the White House had concluded that Britain had "lost" Basra, and that Pentagon war games were predicting a virtual civil war in the South once British troops left.
Which faction is going to win? Will that faction then take on other Shia factions in Baghdad in order to win control of the "central" government?
But in his outburst last autumn the head of the Army, General Sir Richard Dannatt, came close to implying that further British sacrifices in Iraq were pointless. He said the British presence was "exacerbating" the security situation and that the troops should leave "soon". Commanders argue that the majority of attacks in Basra are on British forces – between 85 and 90 per cent, they estimate – and point out that when Iraqi forces have taken over other British bases in Basra city, such as the Shatt al-Arab hotel, violence has fallen. "We are a major part of the problem," said one officer. "Without us the murder rate would be lower than in Washington DC."
Since the British presence is already so minimal do the Brits really restrain the factions at this point?
A MILITARY adviser to President George W Bush has warned that British forces will have to fight their way out of Iraq in an “ugly and embarrassing” retreat.
Stephen Biddle, who also advises the US commander in Iraq, said Iranian-backed Shi’ite militias in the south would try to create the impression they were forcing a retreat. “They want to make it clear they have forced the British out. That means they’ll use car bombs, ambushes, RPGs [rocket-propelled grenades] . . . and there will be a number of British casualties.”
The comments coincide with British military estimates that withdrawal could cost the lives of 10 to 15 soldiers.
The withdrawal from their base to the airport is expected to go well. But from the airport to out of the country is going to be a gun battle.
WHEN the British went into Iraq they were believed to have more expertise in counter-insurgency than their US allies still learning the lessons of humiliation in Vietnam.
But now they are facing their own “Saigon moment” with plans for a withdrawal predicted by some on the British side to be ignominious and by a US military adviser to be ugly and embarrassing.
Not only that, but the British are expected to rely on US troops for cover to protect their convoys.
The Brits never had enough troops. But then neither did the United States. The number of Iraqi youths willing to take up arms against the United States or against any government supported by the United States is so large that the US could only suppress the violence in Iraq with a draft to expand the US Army by a factor of 3 or 4.
We have no strategic interests at stake in Iraq. Al Qaeda isn't going to take over when we leave. The Kurds and Shia Arabs will see to that. Even the Sunni Arabs only wanted Al Qaeda to help them beat the Americans and Shias. We can leave and save huge amounts of money and many lives.
|Share |||By Randall Parker at 2007 August 19 08:32 AM Mideast Iraq Exit Debate|