Wednesday, August 08, 2007

British Forces in Basra Are in Withdrawal Mode

It's not going to be exactly like Dien Bien Phu, nor even Custer's Last Stand, but. . .

The British garrison at Basra Palace, described by a Labour MP recently there as a "force surrounded like cowboys and Indians", will strike camp and hand it over to the Iraqis. That would leave 5,000 British troops in a single base, at the airport on the western outskirts of the city.

The British Ministry of Defence (MoD) is cagey
about exactly how many military vehicles they have in the area requiring withdrawal. Some calculate there to be about 30 Challenger 2 battle tanks, about 90 Warrior armored vehicles and scores of other armored vehicles, including ageing Land Rovers, and new Mastiffs and Bulldogs which provide better protection for British troops.

The army suggests they will be driven out of Iraq to Kuwait in convoys, though they made it clear they had not given the issue much thought. Of course, it would be easier for Britain's squadrons of Sea King, Merlin and Lynx helicopters, and Hercules transport planes to fly off.

Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup, the chief of defense staff, echoed the frustration in a recent interview with the BBC. Basra had been a success, he said, though that depended on "what your interpretation of the mission was in the first place". The mission was to "get the place and the people to a state where Iraqis could run this part of the country" he said, adding pointedly, "if they chose to".

It's clear that they are already running the show. The newspaper quoted from one think tank report that said the legacy of British rule in Basra was:
the systematic misuse of official institutions, political assassinations, tribal vendettas, neighborhood vigilantism and enforcement of social mores, together with the rise of criminal mafias.
An intelligence official told the Washington Post:
The British have basically been defeated in the south. 500 British troops based at Basra Palace were surrounded like cowboys and Indians.
British troops told Labour and Liberal Democrat MPs who visited Basra recently that they were only there "because of our relations with the US" and because of "American domestic sensibilities". That kind of talk is not healthy and defense ministers know it. An ex-British defense official, now based in Baghdad, told the newspaper that America had criticized London's push to withdraw at the "highest levels." America,
has been very concerned for some time now about (a) the lawless situation in Basra and (b) the political and military impact of the British pullback.
There is evidence from recent attacks that insurgents - Iran-backed militia, rogue militia elements and criminal gangs, the MoD calls them - have changed their tactics by firing rockets and mortars at the base in attacks which have already killed British soldiers there. Charles Heyman, a former army officer and author of The Armed Forces of the UK, warned yesterday they could be "sitting ducks". Currently, British troops are the targets of 90% of attacks in Basra.

Basra governor general Mohammad al-Wa'eli is ready to accept the turnover. He says,
Basra province is one of the most important provinces which plays a major role in Iraq's economical structure, therefore the Iraqi government has done a lot of work to take over the security dossier. Iraqi prime minister Nouri Al-Maliki has issued an order for establishing an operation center in Basra to prepare the security forces for taking control of the province and starting the reconstruction plan.

In fact, the Iraqi government attaches great importance to transferring of security dossier and compiling of a strategic plan for the establishment of security in Basra. After the security is taken over from British troops, the mechanism by which security in Basra is established will be totally different from the current mechanism and right decisions will be made in this regard.
The idea is that the troops held up around Basra airport will be on what ministers call "overwatch" - they will be there to help Iraqi forces in a crisis, and continue to train them. Yet MoD officials say 5,000 is barely enough for the task. Military commentators say the force would soon become demoralized and besieged.