Saturday, September 01, 2007

Iraq: Is British Withdrawal Imminent?

We see the British government decidedly moving away from U.S. foreign policy on Iraq in an article reporting that British General Sir Mike Jackson, now retired as former chief of the general staff is criticizing former U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld as "intellectually bankrupt". Jackson's belief is that all of the U.S. State Department efforts had been undermined and wasted by the Bush administration's heavy focus on military power.

Since Gordon Brown succeeded Tony Blair as British prime minister in June, there has been increasing criticism in the U.S. press of British forces' role in southern Iraq and speculation has increased that Brown could speed up the withdrawal of British forces. source: Reuters

The Yorkshire Ranter has noted that the clock is ticking ever faster on British withdrawal from Iraq.

Among the British experts, the arguments to stay or go sound oddly familiar:

Toby Dodge, an Iraq expert at the University of London and IISS who recently visited Basra and Baghdad, is a strong critic of British policy. "Britain signed up for war with too few troops and too inactive a policy in the south," he said. "We have never managed to 'clear and hold' in Basra. The approach has been to muddle through and let the situation find its own level, which has resulted in anarchy, violence and criminality. Over the past four years this has become a self-fulfilling prophecy by the British top brass, who are responsible for much of it."

Dr Dodge does not believe that Britain would be justified in withdrawing. "There is a lot of criminality and inter-faction violence in the British zone, but you could argue that it would get worse if British forces left," he said. "In my view we can't cut and run from a problem we have created."

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."