The British Flight from Basra

BY Herschel Smith
9 years ago

In Calamity in Basra and British Rules of Engagement, we pointed out that the British had essentially been militarily defeated in Basra.

Richard Beeston, diplomatic editor of The Times of London recently returned from a visit to Basra, his first since 2003. He says in 2003, British soldiers were on foot patrol, drove through town in unarmored vehicles and fished in the waters of the Shaat al Arab on their days off. He says the changes he saw four years later are enormous.

“Nowadays all troop movement in and out of the city are conducted at night by helicopter because it’s been deemed too dangerous to go on the road and its dangerous to fly choppers during the day,? he says.

Beeston says during his latest visit, he noticed a map of the city in one of the military briefing rooms. About half of the city was marked as no-go areas.

British headquarters are mortared and rocketed almost everynight.

In this article we cited Anthony Cordesman (Center for Strategic and International Studies) who began openly discussing the situation by calling it a defeat in a white paper entitled The British Defeat in the South and the Uncertain Bush Strategy in Iraq.  In response to Cordesman there is a row in Britian over the idea that there has been a defeat.  On August 12, the Scotsman published an article containing responses to Cordesman.

STRAINED relations between Washington and London were stretched still further over Iraq last night, as a senior American official condemned Britain’s “failure” in its mission to bring peace to the south of the war-torn country.

Defence chiefs reacted with fury after right-wing commentator and adviser Anthony Cordesman weighed into the row over the UK’s contribution to the post-Saddam operation with a withering claim that Britain had effectively handed control of its zone to local “mafiosi”.

More significantly, Cordesman claimed the British “failure” had allowed Iran to gain a toehold, which it was using to increase its influence over its neighbour. The damning accusations, made after a fact-finding visit to Iraq, increase the pressure over the continuing dilemma confronting coalition leaders, amid expectations that Gordon Brown is poised to pull British troops out within the next few months.

In a report completed following his return from Iraq last week, Cordesman, of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), said: “British weakness and failure in the south has both encouraged Shi’ite extremism and partially opened the door to Iran.

“The struggle for each major shrine city has become messy and local in the south, and the British defeat in the four provinces in the south-east – particularly Basra – has created the equivalent of rival Shi’ite mafias, whose religious pretensions in no way mean they are not the equivalent of the kind of rival gangs that dominated many American cities during prohibition. Young street thugs wander much of the area, stealing and bullying in the name of God.”

But the dismal assessment of the security situation in the British-controlled zone was angrily refuted by British officials and military experts.

“This bears no resemblance to what we know to be the case,” a senior source at the Ministry of Defence said last night. “If Mr Cordesman had actually been to Basra during his visit, he would have seen that the British forces have a lot more control than he suggests. We have never suggested that every-thing was perfectly peaceful, but this is terribly unfair on the hard work that our armed forces are doing every day.”

The indignation seems genuine enough and the notion of British success seems to be believed.  But subsequent reports of the calamity in Basra surface, betraying the British claims and re-telling the story of three competing Shi’a militias in Southern Iraq: the Fadhila Party, the SIIC (i.e., Badr organization) and the JAM.

Then in a stark admission of the reality of Basra, senior U.S. and British military analysts and officers weigh in on just how bad the British pullout from Basra could get.

An adviser to the U.S. military said that British troops face an “ugly and embarrassing” withdrawal from southern Iraq in the coming months, a British newspaper reported.

Stephen Biddle, a member of a group that advised U.S. Gen. David Petraeus in Iraq last year, told the Sunday Times that insurgents and militia groups were likely to target British soldiers with ambushes, roadside bombs and rocket-propelled grenades as they leave.

“It will be a hard withdrawal. They want the image of a British defeat,” Biddle told the paper. “It will be ugly and embarrassing.”

The Sunday Times also quoted a senior British officer as saying that British troops have lost control of the main southern city of Basra.

“I regret to say that the Basra experience is set to become a major blunder in terms of military history,” the officer was quoted as saying by the newspaper. “The insurgents are calling the shots … and in a worst-case scenario will chase us out of southern Iraq.”

As we have pointed out before, alignment with the Badr organization simply because they have joined the government is a deal with the devil because it empowers Iran, and failing to confront the JAM leaves arrogant, violent teenagers in charge of the richest city in Iraq.  And the British failure might have left the U.S. in the situation of cleaning up the mess.


You are currently reading "The British Flight from Basra", entry #735 on The Captain's Journal.

This article is filed under the category(s) Badr Organization,Iran,Iraq,Jaish al Mahdi,Quds Force and was published August 20th, 2007 by Herschel Smith.

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