August 19th, 2007 by lex
The US military have had to endure a fair amount of old world sneering from their coalition allies to the south almost from the beginning of OIF. The British were fond of explaining how their experiences in Northern Ireland had better prepared them for the kind of “soft hat” policing that would win hearts and minds in any counter insurgency campaign, while tut-tutting over the harsher measures used by over-armored Americans in Baghdad and Fallujah.
Never mind: Having given up the coastal city of Basra to the tender mercies of gang warfare and retreated to cantonment – where remaining efforts are dedicated to defending themselves from attack – our coalition allies submit that nothing more useful can be done:
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.
Before the invasion in 2003, officers were told that the Army’s war aims were to bring stability and democracy to Iraq and to the Middle East as a whole. Those ambitions have been drastically revised, the IoS understands. The priorities now are an orderly withdrawal, with the reputation and capability of the Army “reasonably intact”, and for Britain to remain a “credible ally”. The final phrase appears to refer to tensions with the US, which has more troops in Iraq than at any other time, including the invasion, as it seeks to impose order in Baghdad and neighbouring provinces.
Never postured to perform the kind of “clear and hold” operations on-going in Baghdad, the British position now is analogous to the pre-surge US position. It would be useful to let our allies leave the field with honor intact, and see what develops next in Basra. Although ethnically homogeneous, it would nevertheless present an interesting petri dish for those who theorize that a rapid-withdrawal of US troops is in the general interest.
Perhaps, after a brief tussle for control, a kind of rough equilibrium could be reached in the south. Perhaps not.
In either case, the result would be instructive for all of us.