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(A short version of this post can be found here,)
From the get go, they tried very hard to not be American. They succeeded.
April, 2003 - The Guardian:
Senior British military officers on the ground are making it clear they are dismayed by the failure of US troops to try to fight the battle for hearts and minds.May, 2003 - The New York Times:
Yesterday, British officers described the very different approach between UK and American soldiers by pointing to Uum Qasr, the Iraqi port south of Basra and the first urban area captured by US and UK marines. "Unlike the Americans, we took our helmets and sunglasses off and looked at the Iraqis eye to eye," said a British officer.
While British soldiers "get out on their feet", Americans, he said, were reluctant to leave their armoured vehicles. When they did do so - and this was the experience even in Uum Qasr - US marines were ordered to wear their full combat kit.
One difference emphasised yesterday by senior British military sources was the attitude towards "force protection". A defence source added: "The Americans put on more and more armour and firepower. The British go light and go on the ground." He made it plain what approach should be adopted towards what he called "frightened Iraqis".
British defence sources contrast the patient tactics deployed by their troops around Basra and what they call the more brutal tactics used by American forces around Nassiriya.
The British military put the difference in approach down to decades of training as well as experience - first in colonial insurgencies in Malaysia, then in Northern Ireland and peacekeeping operations in the Balkans.
What is striking is the emphasis senior British military figures are placing on the differences between their approach and that of the Americans on the ground. They have gone out of their way to draw attention to nervous, "trigger-happy" US soldiers.
British military sources are now concerned that the experience in peacekeeping and unconventional warfare of British troops will mean they will be in Iraq long after the Americans have left, even for years, in policing and humanitarian operations.
Shortly after George Bush was elected president, the former chief of defence staff, Lord Guthrie, told the Guardian that the new administration was moving towards light, flexible forces which can "get there quicker but not stay around for ever". He added: "The Americans talk about the warrior ethic and ... that peacekeeping is for wimps."
Iraq has shown that the quick-light-flexible force strategy has not worked. The concern here among military chiefs is that the experience will mean the US will want to get out of places even quicker, leaving the British and others to continue fighting the battle for hearts and minds.
Under Low-Key British Rule, Basra Shows Signs of Coming Back to LifeJune, 2003, - The BBC:
When the British finally entered the city on April 6, they were greeted with mass lawlessness, widespread looting and armed gunmen roaming the streets. The people here, who for the most part have expressed overwhelming gratitude for being rid of Saddam Hussein, were too scared to leave their houses, much less welcome the troops.
Those early days of chaos created an impression among the population that the British are still struggling to counter.
Now they use intelligence to strike at known criminals and troublemakers, but overall they try and maintain a low profile whenever possible, wearing berets instead of helmets and not setting up checkpoints.
It is a strategy meant to foster a climate of trust, counter the image of the soldiers as occupiers and encourage Iraqis to take over important tasks themselves. But for people still worried about the safety of their homes, the subtlety of that method frustrates many who are still worried about lawlessness.
This week British soldiers began an aggressive attempt to change perceptions. They started distributing an Arabic-language paper, Azzaman, around the city.
Six British military police officers have been killed and eight other servicemen wounded in two separate incidents in south-eastern Iraq.
Both incidents happened at the edge of the British area of operations within the country, in the region of the town of Amara.
They mark the heaviest losses to enemy action suffered in a single day by US-led coalition forces since the war in Iraq was declared largely over on 1 May, after the toppling of Saddam Hussein's regime.
It is also the heaviest loss of British life in a single hostile incident since UK forces entered Iraq at the start of the war in late March.
...British troops operating in and around the second city of Basra had until now seen no serious post-war attacks, often dispensing with their helmets and flak jackets to present a less threatening sight to local people.
October, 2003 - The Independent
Crime-racked Basra calls on British troops to get tougherSpring, 2004 - Steven Vincent:
By the still waters of the Shatt al-Arab waterway, a few dozen university lecturers and professors gather with black banners to protest at the armed British troops manning the ornate gate of Basra's presidential palace. Their colleague, the head of the engineering department, has just been murdered. They know who the killers are, they say, and accuse the British of doing nothing about it.
"If you can't keep the peace," Dr Aziz al-Hilfi shouts at the soldiers, "we shall turn against you!" Like many of his colleagues, he went to university in Britain and has never demonstrated before. "You can hire a killer here for 100,000 dinars [about pounds 40]," he says. "The Iraqi police are useless; they do nothing. The British drive around, but they aren't protecting us. Do they want the 1920s again?"
Frustration at the lack of security in Basra is reaching boiling point. Just up the road from the protest, doctors at Basra's main teaching hospital are treating Abbas Khudayir, who has been shot nine times for the pounds 200 he was carrying to buy a motorbike. He will survive, but the doctors aren't so sure about Britain's chances of keeping the lid on the growing discontent. "They need to be tougher", says Dr Nezar Al-Mafooz, himself educated in Britain. "They need to shoot more."
Last spring, my friend Nour and I sat down in Basra's Hamdan Restaurant with Khalid and two other corresondents from his newspaper, where they told me about the difficult problems of carrying out "true" journalism in their country. Under the passive noses of the British, they complained, criminal gangs had taken control of Iraq's second largest city, earning money through extortion, fuel smuggling and liquor and drug dealing. Moreover, favoritism, bribery and graft--particularly through the use of phony contracting--was rampant.October, 2004, The Telegraph:
"We can't do our jobs as journalists," one complained. "If we push too hard on certain issues, we can get in trouble. Or worse, we can get killed." When I asked what these "certain issues" were and with whom, he shook his head. "I'd rather not say." I didn't press him on the issue, for such was the climate of fear in Basra that to even suggest the existence of problem could result in a gangland-style warrant of execution.
US tactics condemned by British officersDecember, 2004 - Steven Vincent:
Senior British commanders have condemned American military tactics in Iraq as heavy-handed and disproportionate.
One senior Army officer told The Telegraph that America's aggressive methods were causing friction among allied commanders and that there was a growing sense of "unease and frustration" among the British high command.
The officer, who agreed to the interview on the condition of anonymity, said that part of the problem was that American troops viewed Iraqis as untermenschen - the Nazi expression for "sub-humans".
Speaking from his base in southern Iraq, the officer said: "My view and the view of the British chain of command is that the Americans' use of violence is not proportionate and is over-responsive to the threat they are facing. They don't see the Iraqi people the way we see them. They view them as untermenschen. They are not concerned about the Iraqi loss of life in the way the British are. Their attitude towards the Iraqis is tragic, it's awful.
"The US troops view things in very simplistic terms. It seems hard for them to reconcile subtleties between who supports what and who doesn't in Iraq. It's easier for their soldiers to group all Iraqis as the bad guys. As far as they are concerned Iraq is bandit country and everybody is out to kill them."
"The British response in Iraq has been much softer. During and after the war the British set about trying to win the confidence of the local population. There have been problems, it hasn't been easy but on the whole it was succeeding."
The officer believed that America had now lost the military initiative in Iraq, and it could only be regained with carefully planned, precision attacks against the "terrorists".
"The US will have to abandon the sledgehammer-to-crack-a-nut approach - it has failed," he said. "They need to stop viewing every Iraqi, every Arab as the enemy and attempt to win the hearts and minds of the people.
"Our objective is to create a stable, democratic and safe Iraq. That's achievable but not in the short term. It is going to take up to 10 years."
The phrase untermenschen - literally "under-people" - was brought to prominence by Adolf Hitler in his book Mein Kampf, published in 1925. He used the term to describe those he regarded as racially inferior: Jews, Slaves and gipsies.
Recently I received an e-mail from Khalid, a journalist I met in Basra, where he was an up-and-coming reporter for one of the city's largest newspaper. At the time, he was a very pro-American young man, who, like many Iraqis, felt anxious--but excited--about the future of post-Saddam Iraq. His correspondence, therefore, came as an unpleasant surprise I wish I could offer better news, but if I'm going to invite my friends to contribute on this blog, I must present their comments as they write them, negative assessments and all.March, 2005 - The Washington Post:
Steven, Basra looks like a town in the American West, where gangsters and killers become the only authority and anyone who tries to discover their crimes will be shut-down and presented as a criminal and an outlaw!.
It is like this: the gangsters control the government and steal money through many different ways, but most particularly through fictitious contracts. Their militias wear the uniform of the Iraqi National Guard. They are loyal only to their party chieftains.
Finally, I could not take it any longer and quit my journalism job. I'm no longer "on the ground" in Iraq. I now live in Saudi Arabia and don't know when or if I will return to Basra.
Picnic Is No Party In the New BasraMay/June, 2005 - Steven Vincent, National Review:
Uproar Over Armed Attack on Student Event Redraws Debate on Islam's Role and Reach
BASRA, Iraq, March 28 -- Celia Garabet thought students were roughhousing. Sinan Saeed was sure a fight had erupted. Within a few minutes, on a sunny day at a riverside park, they realized something different was afoot. A group of Shiite Muslim militiamen with rifles, pistols, thick wire cables and sticks had charged into crowds of hundreds at a college picnic. They fired shots, beat students and hauled some of them away in pickup trucks. The transgressions: men dancing and singing, music playing and couples mixing.
...20 to 40 militiamen loyal to the militant young Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr and his Mahdi Army charged into the two-acre park of overgrown grass, concrete picnic tables and paths of colored tiles. Some of them wore checkered headscarves over their faces, others black balaclavas. They carried sticks, cable, pistols and rifles, a few with a weapon in each hand. They were accompanied by two clerics in robes and turbans: Abdullah Menshadawi and Abdullah Zaydi.
Garabet, an unveiled woman from an Armenian Christian family, never saw her assailant. He struck her twice in the back of the head with his fist. "I was afraid to turn around," she said.
She stumbled, then headed with others toward the black steel gate. Militiamen were shouting "Infidels!"
"It was chaos," she said. "Everyone was yelling."
"The issue is settled," said Mohammed Musabah, who took over as governor of Basra the day of the melee. He acknowledged that police had not arrested anyone, as students had demanded. But, he said in an interview, "We spoke with them in a stern tone. Both sides wanted to resolve it by way of dialogue."
Basra, Iraq — It’s been a little over a year since I was last in Basra, and at first glance little has changed. The buildings are just as dilapidated, livestock still periodically cross the rubble-strewn streets, and the once beautiful canals remain clotted with trash. The heat, too, is the same, although the summertime onslaught of humidity that afflicts this southern port city — situated about 40 kilometers from the Arabian Gulf — is still months away.May, 2005 - Steven Vincent:
Beneath the surface, though, this is not the easy-going municipality of 1.5 million people I recall. For one thing, I can no longer wander the streets, take a cab, or dine in restaurants for fear of being spotted as a foreigner: Kidnapping, by criminal gangs or terrorists, remains a lucrative business. Instead, for safety’s sake, I’m tied to my hotel, dependent on expensive drivers, unable to go anywhere without Iraqi escort. “You really shouldn’t be here at all,” a British-embassy official warned me.
Seems the MNF (as in "Multi-national Force," the preferred term these days for the "Coalition") was turning over a newly-refurbished border fort to Iraqi control and did I want to go? Sure, why not, throwing on a blue helmet and flak jacket, `s only gonna take an hour or two, right?May, 2005 - Steven Vincent:
Off we go, crowded into the back of the third Snatch--Emile, a civilian media coordinator for the military, and three soldiers, Roger, Joan and Marcia (all names have been changed), while up front is a driver and another Tommie in the shot-gun seat. The only air circulation comes from a laughably ineffective a/c system and a open portal in the vehicle's roof which is usually filled by a couple of soldiers standing up and scanning the surrounding environment for potential bad guys. (These Land Rovers evidently proved useful in Northern Ireland, where they allowed the British to patrol streets without appearing too aggressive, as they might in U.S.-style Humvees. As one English officer explained to me, "We've had decades of experience in this sort of thing.")
We bounce north, along back roads Basrah--palms, rivers, cows, goats--the scenery looking a bit Vietnamish here--grassy fields, irrigation ditches and small villages producing streams of children scampering out to wave at our convoy. We cross the Shatt, see a tanker plying the gray-green waters, plunge back among date groves and crumbling hovels crowned with satellite dishes...donkeys, feral dog packs, women in abiyas waiting for a bus or taxi cab...on and on...gets hot crammed in the back of a Snatch, jouncing on the pitted roads, the soldiers beginning to sweat from the kilos of equipment--or "kit"--they carry...
On and on. And on. It soon becomes apparent that the British are, well...lost. Several times the convoy pulls over, middle-of-the-roadway conferences, maps pulled out, soldiers pointing in various directions, squinting in the blazing sunlight--Emile and I, civilians, cannot dismount and instead remain roasting in the vehicles, the sun beating fiendishly down through the open portal--
Still, they are soldiers. Back in Basrah--five hours and a couple of Tommies who succumbed to heat exhaustion later--the Brits have to clamber out of their Snatches each time we stop, the idea being they present a tempting target when halted in traffic. (Emile and I, however, have to remain in the vehicles, giving me a whole new appreciation of the term "sitting duck.") This means for Roger, Joan and Marcia its out of the Snatch, back in, out, back in, out...it's hot, they're tired and lugging kilos of kit, nary a gripe or complaint, I try to work the back door a little to help them out but fear I'm only getting in the way...
And indeed, they are soldiers. A 16-year vet, Joan, for one, has been all around the world--from Iraq to Afghanistan to tsunami relief work in the Indian Ocean. At one point in our sojourn, I was telling the soldiers about how the religious fundamentalists have seized control of Basrah (restricted to base except on patrol, the average Tommie is rather ignorant of political life in the city)--noting, for example, how they've targeted hairdressers for assassination. With this, Joan grunts, "I hate hairdressers." I give her a quizzical look and she adds by way of explanation, "My ex-husband ran off with a hairdresser when I was in Bosnia."
Jesus. I mean, Jee-zus. Crumbling houses, muddy streets, broken down cars rotting in pools of motor oil, plastic bags--the scourge of the Iraqi environment--ensnared on coils of concertina wire...this is a booming port town?June, 2005 - Steven Vincent:
We'll call him Ahmed. He's accompanied by some unarmed guards as we sit in his living room. With Mahmoud interpreting, I begin the conversation by telling Ahmed that I'd read Umm Qasr is a southern Iraqi success story, at which point he cuts me off. "Propaganda," he grunts in English.
Turns out, the town of 60,000 people is not doing well at all. The main difficulty seems to be water--its barely useable even for laundry, let alone drinking. UQ used to draw water from four underground wells, but the wells, or maybe the pipes servicing them, became corrupted, resulting in a high degree of salinization. NGOs are doing nothing, "they claim they have set up project and submitted proposals but..." Ahmed shrugged. The UN built a two kilometer pipeline that provides salty washing water. The Brits won't do much either, beyond offering some token material and the Iraqis lack the resources to do the job themselves. The result is that UQ has to truck in most the water they use, adding further costs to their city budget.
The sharp ripping sound erupted somewhere close to the hotel. Automatic weapon fire, I thought, flashing back to Baghdad, where the same noise was--and still is--a constant part of city life. Perhaps it's just a wedding. But it was 9 a.m., and besides, everyone knows that the Hauwza--the religious establishment in Najaf--has outlawed the casualty-producing custom of celebrating nuptials by firing guns into the sky.June, 2005 - Steven Vincent:
A few hours later, we got the news. On the street just behind the funduk, four masked men in a Toyota emptied their AKs into a parked car, killing a police colonel from Zubair, who had come to Basra for medical treatment. The assassins are unknown, as is their motive, although rumors have it the murder had something to do with "smuggling."
According to Dr Zaineldin, his institution lacks the one facility you'd expect in a well-equipped Iraqi hospital--an emergency ward. "The British asked us to close it down," he explained. Why? Seems it was encouraging young tribal bucks to go out a-feuding, get themselves shot up, then receive top-notch treatment in the most advanced medical center in town.
July 2005 - Steven Vincent, The New York Times:
"No one trusts the police," one Iraqi journalist told me. "If our new ayatollahs snap their fingers, thousands of police will jump." Mufeed al-Mushashaee, the leader of a liberal political organization called the Shabanea Rebellion, told me that he felt that "the entire force should be dissolved and replaced with people educated in human rights and democracy."August, 2005 - National review:
Unfortunately, this is precisely what the British aren't doing. Fearing to appear like colonial occupiers, they avoid any hint of ideological indoctrination: in my time with them, not once did I see an instructor explain such basics of democracy as the politically neutral role of the police in a civil society. Nor did I see anyone question the alarming number of religious posters on the walls of Basran police stations. When I asked British troops if the security sector reform strategy included measures to encourage cadets to identify with the national government rather than their neighborhood mosque, I received polite shrugs: not our job, mate.
The results are apparent. At the city's university, for example, self-appointed monitors patrol the campuses, ensuring that women's attire and makeup are properly Islamic. "I'd like to throw them off the grounds, but who will do it?" a university administrator asked me. "Most of our police belong to the same religious parties as the monitors."
Meanwhile, the British stand above the growing turmoil, refusing to challenge the Islamists' claim on the hearts and minds of police officers. This detachment angers many Basrans. "The British know what's happening but they are asleep, pretending they can simply establish security and leave behind democracy," said the police lieutenant who had told me of the assassinations. "Before such a government takes root here, we must experience a transformation of our minds."
According to an e-mail from Vincent's wife sent on Tuesday night, Vincent and his Iraqi translator, Nour Weidi, were "snatched in front of a bank on Tuesday, August 2nd at 6:30 P.M. local time. Two men drove up, grabbed them, threw them in a car and took off. Nour dropped her ID on the street, which is how the British were able to figure out who it was." Hours later, the American embassy in Baghdad would confirm Vincent dead, and his translator seriously wounded. Vincent's body was found on the side of a highway. He had been shot multiple times in the head.
September, 2005 - The Guardian:
Day of violence in Basra exposes myth of trust between British and Iraqi forcesNovember, 2005 - The Spectator:
The storming of the Basra prison by British armoured vehicles and troops shatters the assumption, promoted by government ministers, that the security situation in British-controlled southern Iraq is getting better. Far from the picture painted by British ministers that British troops and the Iraqi security forces - trained by British troops - are working well together in mutual trust, last night's events suggest the contrary.
Ironically, British military commanders in Basra and the area of southern Iraq they control have recently been criticised for turning a blind eye to infiltration by radical militias of the Iraqi police. This may have caused the two undercover soldiers - almost certainly special forces troops - to suspect the apparently genuine Iraqi police who stopped and fired at them.
Yesterday's events appear to have broken the uneasy peace that has existed in the British-run southern sector of Iraq for the past two years. Since the invasion of Iraq in March 2003, British troops in the south have enjoyed relative calm compared with US troops in Baghdad and the rest of central Iraq.
The proverbial library of successful counter-insurgencies -- a woefully small collection -- is dominated by the near-legendary campaigns of the British, including those carried out in Malaya, Aden, and Oman. Until recently, some observers thought it entirely possible that the British effort in southern Iraq would join this catalog of battlefield achievements. Those hopes -- once prevalent among the media and military experts -- died a most public death early this fall, when British soldiers rushed to rescue two special forces operatives that had been arrested by Iraqi police. After storming the compound, the troops were confronted by squads of heavily armed militiamen who had strategically intermixed themselves with the riotous crowd. The resultant firefight saw British armored vehicles pelted with Molotov cocktails and British soldiers wounded by hurled explosives.November, 2005 - The New York Times:
At home, Britons were stunned by the graphic footage of their soldiers being assaulted in a city thought to be "safe," especially in comparison to the blood-soaked urban areas of the Sunni Triangle which dominate news coverage emanating out of Iraq. The violent imagery was only the latest and most troubling indication of the British military's failure in Basra and its environs, a disastrous turn of events which seemed unthinkable two years ago, when British troops were welcomed into Basra with relatively open arms.
The root of this failure stems from the very strategy that was once lauded as the antidote for insurgent violence. Known as the "soft approach," the British strategy in southern Iraq centered on non-aggressive, nearly passive responses to violent flare-ups.... As a symbol of their faith in stability-by-civility, the British military took to donning the soft beret while on patrol, avoiding the connotations of war supposedly raised by the American-style Kevlar helmets.
In the immediate aftermath of the 2003 invasion, this "soft" approach seemed remarkably successful, especially when juxtaposed with the chaos that had engulfed other parts of Iraq. Basra seemed to adapt relatively well to the new order of things, with little in the way of street battles or casualties. Both the British and American media -- ever-ready to point out the comparable failures of American arms -- energetically hailed the peaceful and stable atmosphere in Basra as a significant indicator of the virtues of the British approach, upholding it as the tactical antithesis to the brutal and aggressive Yanks. The Dallas Morning News reported in 2003 that military experts from Britain were already boasting that U.S. forces in Iraq could "take a cue from the way their British counterparts have taken control of Basra." Charles Heyman, editor of the highly-respected defense journal Jane's, asserted: "The main lesson that the Americans can learn from Basra and apply to Baghdad is to use the 'softly-softly' approach."
The reporting also featured erudite denunciations of the rigid rules of engagement that governed the United States military, while simultaneously championing British outreach. Ian Kemp, a noted British defense expert, suggested in November 2004 that the "major obstacle" in past U.S. occupations and peacekeeping efforts was their inability to connect with locals due to the doctrinal preeminence of force protection. In other words, had Americans possessed the courage to interface with the Iraqi, they might enjoy greater success.
It did not take long before the English press allowed the great straw man of a violent American society to seep into their explanations for the divergent approaches. The Sunday Times of London proclaimed "armies reflect their societies for better or for worse. In Britain, guns are frowned upon -- and British troops faced with demonstrations in Northern Ireland must go through five or six stages, including a verbal warning as the situation gets progressively more nasty, before they are allowed to shoot. In America, guns are second nature." Such flimsy and anecdotal reasoning -- borne solely out of classical European elitist arrogance -- tinged much of the reporting out of Basra.
AS A RESULT OF THE EFFUSIVE media celebration, even some in the British military began believing their own hype, with soldiers suggesting to reporters in May 2003 that the U.S. military should "look to them for a lesson or two." As a British sergeant told the Christian Science Monitor: "We are trained for every inevitability and we do this better than the Americans." According to other unnamed British military officials, America had "a poor record" at keeping the peace while Basra only reinforced the assertion that the British maintain "the best urban peacekeeping force in the world."
The city's chief of police ordered his police to stand down and refuse to assist the British, which many British officers took as a tacit exhortation for police to aid Sadr's forces. Iraqis themselves were quickly brought into line by the extremists, as numerous Iraqi employees of the British government were murdered and tortured, their hands displayed on pikes outside of British headquarters.
The British response to these provocations was virtually non-existent, with army officials heeding warnings by "local leaders" that they avoid retaliatory measures. This inaction seemed only to embolden the Shi'ite extremists and their allies in the militias, who -- over the next six months -- began to accelerate their already advanced designs of transformation and intimidation.
The British government's inability to adjust to the rising danger posed by Shi'ite militias put British soldiers in an untenable position. Sworn to their ethos of non-intervention, the British found themselves virtually paralyzed in responding to provocations. Shi'ite militias quickly preyed upon this tactical contradiction, with attacks against British forces steadily increasing throughout 2004 and into 2005. The gunmen of the Mahdi Army regularly dueled with British soldiers, who were made especially vulnerable due to their command's insistence that they travel in unarmored vehicles, so as not to threaten the populace. Ridiculously, the British Army often found themselves fighting the very police they had trained months prior. This equivocation-under-fire policy of London has been disastrous for British morale, with high-ranking officers -- such as Lt. Colonel Nick Henderson, commander of the celebrated Coldstream Guards -- recently resigning out of disgust for the government's adherence to a non-armored and non-aggressive policy.
Due to the soft-handed British response to extremist escalation, Basra now teeters on the precipice of mob rule. While the kidnapping and murder of reporter Steven Vincent in August attracted significant Western attention, it was only one example of the trend towards anarchy in Basra. On the streets, bearded fundamentalists harass local youth, threatening them with death unless they adhere to stringent religious edicts. British-friendly politicians, liquor-store owners, and university students are routinely "disappeared," while women are being pushed back into home-bound seclusion. Hezbollah flags and posters of the Ayatollah Khomeini adorn government buildings. The all-powerful militias, such as the Iranian-trained Badr Corps, flaunt their new power, taunting the coalition with invective while dominating the city's government.
Once the centerpiece of the British plan to maintain order using Iraqi forces, the British-trained Basra police force is now thoroughly infiltrated by violent militia groups who wear blue by day and ski masks at night -- the only remnant of their loyalty to the West being their massive stocks of British-supplied weaponry. The exasperated chief of Basra's police recently stated to reporters that over half of his force answered to militia leaders, and that peace was being maintained only through appeasement. With Basra civilians cowed and the levers of civic power increasingly coming under the domination of fractious religious parties, it has become tragically apparent that, for all intents and purposes, British forces have been relegated to the role of mere spectators.
The tactical realities of Basra did indeed prescribe a different approach to peacekeeping -- but did not entail a virtual surrender of control to extremist elements.
Blair Says a Troop Cut in Iraq Is a 'Possibility' Next YearJanuary, 2006 - CNN:
LONDON, Nov. 14 - British officials have begun to talk, however gingerly, about withdrawing their troops from Iraq.
On Monday, Prime Minister Tony Blair said it was "entirely reasonable" to "talk about the possibility" that the troops could begin leaving by the end of next year. The discussion, he added, "has got to be always conditioned by the fact that we withdraw when the job is done."
Gen. Sir Mike Jackson, who leads the British Army, told the BBC that a British departure by the end of 2006 was "well within the range of what is realistically possible."
He said that he was "quite encouraged" by a visit last month to Iraq and that he found the political achievements there "in some ways quite remarkable."
100th British soldier dies in IraqFebruary, 2006 - The Daily Times:
LONDON, England (CNN) -- Two British soldiers have died in southern Iraq this week, bringing the number of the UK force to die during the conflict to 100, a Ministry of Defence statement said.
Corporal Gordon Pritchard, 31, from the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards died after his convoy was struck by a blast in the southern port of Umm Qasr in Basra province on Tuesday. Three other soldiers were wounded in the same incident -- one seriously.
Anti-war campaigners in Britain seized on the 100th death to once again demand Britain pull out of Iraq.
Explosives packed into the wash area of a Shia mosque in the southern city of Basra blew up on Sunday, causing minor injuries, police and witnesses said.October, 2006 - The Telegraph:
Police said they suspected three men wounded in the mosque attack were planting the bomb when it exploded prematurely.
British to evacuate consulate in Basra after mortar attacksFebruary, 2007 - The BBC:
The British consulate in Basra will evacuate its heavily defended building in the next 24 hours over concerns for the safety of its staff.
Despite a large British military presence at the headquarters in Basra Palace, a private security assessment has advised the consul general and her staff to leave the building after experiencing regular mortar attacks in the last two months.
The move will be seen as a huge blow to progress in Iraq and has infuriated senior military commanders. They say it sends a message to the insurgents that they are winning the battle in pushing the British out of the southern Iraqi capital, where several British soldiers have died and dozens have been injured.
A skeleton staff will continue to man the building until it is deemed safe enough for the rest to return. A Foreign Office spokesman insisted last night that its officials were "not bailing out".
"This is a temporary measure as a response to increased mortar attacks," the spokesman said. "Core staff will remain at Basra Palace and the consulate will continue to maintain a full range of activities."
The Foreign Office and Dfid operation in southern Iraq has been criticised for the poor handling of economic and political regeneration in the area.
While £14 million has been spent on refurbishing the consulate, including a new portico, hardened roof defences and swimming pool, it has spent just £12.5 million on reconstruction that included repainting a tower in the city.
The palace, which is surrounded by a 30ft blast wall and graced with manicured lawns, is in the same fortified compound as 800 British infantry.
Blair announces Iraq troops cutFebruary, 2007 - The Independent:
Some 1,600 British troops will return from Iraq within the next few months, Prime Minister Tony Blair has told MPs.
He said the 7,100 serving troops would be cut to 5,500 soon, with hopes that 500 more will leave by late summer.
Remaining troops will stay into 2008, to give back-up if necessary and secure borders, but the Iraqis would "write the next chapter" in Basra's history.
The announcement follows a five-month security operation to quell violence in British-controlled Basra.
Mr Blair said Operation Sinbad, aimed at allowing Iraqis to take the lead in frontline security in the city, had been successful.
The partial British military withdrawal from southern Iraq announced by Tony Blair this week follows political and military failure, and is not because of any improvement in local security, say specialists on Iraq.July, 2007 - The New York Times:
In a comment entitled "The British Defeat in Iraq" the pre-eminent American analyst on Iraq, Anthony Cordesman of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, in Washington, asserts that British forces lost control of the situation in and around Basra by the second half of 2005.
British Pullback in Iraq Presages Hurdles for U.S.August, 2007 - The Washington Post:
BASRA, Iraq — As American troop levels are peaking in Baghdad, British force levels are heading in the opposite direction as the troops prepare to withdraw completely from the city center of Basra, 300 miles to the south.
The British intend to pull back to an airport headquarters miles out of town, a symbolic move widely taken by Iraqis as the beginning of the end of the British military presence in southern Iraq.
The scaling down by America’s largest coalition partner foreshadows many of the political and military challenges certain to face American commanders when their troops begin withdrawing.
As the British prepare for the withdrawal from the city center — and the wider transition of handing over Basra Province to Iraqi security forces during the coming months — Brig. James Bashall, commander of the First Mechanized Brigade, concedes that his men will almost certainly “get a lot of indirect fire as we go backward.”
It is no coincidence that he is reading up on Britain’s withdrawal from its former crown colony Aden in what is now Yemen, and lessons from other theaters, with the American experience in Vietnam as the “obvious parallel.”
Rear Adm. Mark I. Fox, an American military spokesman in Baghdad, parried any suggestion that Basra was a model for the Americans.
“I think that our focus right now is on the operations that we are conducting,” he said. “Certainly that’s the thing that is in front of us right now, and I wouldn’t characterize us as necessarily peeking over the shoulders of somebody else to see how they are doing it.”
The British pullback, and British commanders’ talk of moving toward “overwatch,” and intervening “in a limited sense” if requested by the Iraqis, is viewed with dismay by many Iraqis in the city.
Mustapha Wali, a 49-year-old teacher, was blunt. “If they withdraw, we will live in a jungle, like the early days,” he said. “The parties control the government, and the aim of officials is to fill their pockets with money, millions of dollars inside their pockets and nothing to the city.”
The educated and secular middle classes fear that the Iraqi security forces — particularly the police — are hopelessly infiltrated by the extremist Shiite militias and Iranian-backed Islamist parties competing, often murderously, for control of Basra’s huge oil wealth.
Since the 2003 invasion, the British-led coalition forces have adopted a far less aggressive and interventionist stance than American troops have farther north. Some contend that this was the only realistic approach, with far fewer troops at their disposal and a more benign environment.
But critics accuse the British of simply allowing the Shiite militias free rein to carry out their intolerant Islamist agenda, which involved killing merchants who sell alcohol, driving out Christians and infiltrating state institutions and the security forces.
“The British are very patient — they didn’t know how to deal with the militias,” said a 50-year-old Assyrian Christian who would identify herself only as Mrs. Mansour. “Some people think it would be better if the Americans came instead of the British. They would be harder on the militias.”
The report by the International Crisis Group, a nonprofit organization that seeks to prevent or resolve deadly conflicts, concedes that a recent British-led crackdown was a “qualified success” in reducing criminality, political assassinations and sectarian killings, yet nevertheless concludes that Basra “is an example of what to avoid.”
It said the British had been driven into “increasingly secluded compounds,” a result, the report said, that was viewed by Basra’s residents and militia as an “ignominious defeat.”
But certainly a city that was once relatively safe for British troops is no longer.
Where they once patrolled in soft hats and open-topped vehicles, soldiers now move in heavily armored vehicles and are regularly attacked with mortar shells, rocket-propelled grenades and roadside bombs.
In such an environment, say British commanders, removing the troops from the city center takes away a “magnet” for attacks, and deprives the Mahdi Army, led by Moktada al-Sadr, and other Iranian-backed militias of a cause to justify their continued violence. Instead there will be a transition to control by Iraqis.
“Basra is a totally different environment from what the Americans are facing,” said a British official in Basra. “The problem here is gangsterism, not violent sectarianism. And a foreign military is not the right tool for closing down a mafia.”
“A Baghdad-style surge would be 100 percent counterproductive,” he added.
At Basra Palace, the rocket attacks at all hours of the day and night have led soldiers to christen it, with characteristic dark humor, “probably the worst palace in the world.”
Despite the rocket-shredded roof and garden labyrinth of head-high sandbags, morale remains high. However, some soldiers question their continued presence in the city center.
As British Leave, Basra DeterioratesSeptember, 2007 - Simon Henderson, The Washington Institute:
Violence Rises in Shiite City Once Called a Success Story
As British forces pull back from Basra in southern Iraq, Shiite militias there have escalated a violent battle against each other for political supremacy and control over oil resources, deepening concerns among some U.S. officials in Baghdad that elements of Iraq's Shiite-dominated national government will turn on one another once U.S. troops begin to draw down.
Three major Shiite political groups are locked in a bloody conflict that has left the city in the hands of militias and criminal gangs, whose control extends to municipal offices and neighborhood streets. The city is plagued by "the systematic misuse of official institutions, political assassinations, tribal vendettas, neighborhood vigilantism and enforcement of social mores, together with the rise of criminal mafias that increasingly intermingle with political actors," a recent report by the International Crisis Group said.
In the early years of Iraq's occupation, British officials often disdained the U.S. use of armored patrols and heavily protected troops. The British approach of lightly armed foot patrols -- copied from counterinsurgency operations in Northern Ireland -- sought to avoid antagonizing the local population and encourage cooperation. A 2005 report by the defense committee of the House of Commons commended the British army's performance and urged the Ministry of Defense to "use its influence" to get the Americans to take a less aggressive approach.
Leaving Basra City: Britain's Withdrawal from IraqSummer, 2007 - Michael Yon, Moment of Truth in Iraq
On September 3, 550 British troops evacuated one of Saddam Hussein's former palaces in Basra via the Shatt al-Arab waterway, retreating to Basra airport, the last British base in Iraq. Britain remains responsible for security in the city and for the major supply route from Kuwait, fifty miles to the south. But there is an increasing presumption that British forces will soon withdraw completely, and that U.S. forces will have to replace them.
On the ground, British forces appear to have little enthusiasm left for any role in Iraq. Lt. Col. Patrick Sanders, commander of the forces that left Basra palace, told the Independent, "I could have stayed on there for another six months, we would have been able to defend ourselves, and killed a lot of people in the process, but what would that have achieved?"
Immediately before the redeployment, former British army head Gen. Sir Mike Jackson launched a scathing attack on the American handling of postwar Iraq. Describing the approach taken by former defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld as "intellectually bankrupt"
U.S. decisionmakers seem aware of the growing divergence between the British and American approach in Iraq as well as Afghanistan.
Prime Minister Brown has reportedly promised President Bush that Britain will continue to monitor the progress of Iraqi troops in Basra for the foreseeable future -- a promise that clearly depends on the definition of "foreseeable." British newspapers report that the remaining forces might attempt to conduct their "overwatch" role from Kuwait, and London has actually begun talks with the Kuwaiti government about this possibility (prompting an initial public refusal earlier this week by Kuwait's emir).
The British soldiers had been out longer than thirteen hours and the heat was stifling. Ambient temperature was now 115 F, outside the vehicles, and temperatures approached 70 C (around 150 F) inside. Soldiers poured water down their body armor. The driver was naked other than his body armor and helmet, while soldiers in the back literally pulled down their pants. This was more than an attempt at comfort; they were trying not to die. Thick clouds of thick dust baked the putrid Basra odors until they could gag a goat, although by then the soldiers inside the Bulldogs and Warriors [British military vehicles] could have offered serious competition in a stink contest.With their heavy body armor and helmets, and laden with ammunition, rashes erupted on their skin. Their goggles and ballistic glasses were filthy. The place was like a toilet used as an oven. The people on the septic streets were flushed with hostility.<(See also: Men of Valor)
The RPGs that would have wiped out a Humvee were not killing his men, but the heat was. Moger's gunner collapsed into the vehicle; the men inside were vomiting. It's not a far step from that to death, so he worked a quick plan to expedite getting those who needed medical assistance back to the palace, while he and his remaining men kept fighting.
October 2007 - The Independent:
US 'delayed' British withdrawal from BasraOctober, 2007 - The Telegraph:
British forces were prevented from pulling out of their last base in Basra City for five months because the Americans refused to move their consulate, according to senior military sources.
The US warned that a brigade of troops would be sent from Baghdad to take "appropriate action" to maintain security. The delay in withdrawal resulted in some of the fiercest fighting faced by British forces since the invasion of 2003, leading to the deaths of 25 British soldiers and injuries to 58 others, as well as dozens of Iraqi casualties. Two of the British dead were at the base, Basra Palace, while at least 10 others died in supporting operations.
Downing Street deemed it to be politically unacceptable for the Americans to replace British troops in Basra, as it would glaringly expose the growing differences between the two countries over Iraq. The British had decided that the end of March to early April would be an optimum time to hand over Basra Palace to the Iraqi authorities – after the completion of Operation Sinbad, aimed at militant groups.
But the Americans maintained that withdrawing the coalition presence from Basra, Iraq's second city, would pave the way for Iranian agents to move in. They claimed to have definite intelligence that elements of the al-Quds force were poised to infiltrate across the border from Iran when the British left. The British assessment did not support this scenario, holding that nationalism among the Shia population would supersede any affinity they felt with Shia Iran and that withdrawing from the palace would lessen violence.
A senior defence source involved in planning the pull-back to Basra airport said: "The decision to stay on was made in London; it was a political and not a logistical one. The Americans flatly refused to pull out their consulate and it was them informing us that they intended to send down a brigade which decided matters in London."
Message from Basra: 'get us out of here'March, 2008 - Defense News/Agence France-Presse:
Gethin Chamberlain in Basra is given a simple and stark message from a senior British officer in Iraq: 'We have got it wrong'
It was as astonishing an admission as any that has emerged from the lips of a British officer in the four and a half years since the tanks rolled over the Iraqi border. The British Army, said the man sitting in a prefab hut in Britain's last base in the country, were tired of fighting.
Rather than fight on, they have struck a deal – or accommodation, as they describe it – with the Shia militias that dominate the city, promising to stay out in return for assurances that they will not be attacked. Since withdrawing, the British have not set foot in the city and even have to ask for permission if they want to skirt the edges to get to the Iranian border on the other side.
Since the withdrawal, attacks on British forces in the region have plummeted, but the level of violence in Basra remains high. Iraqis living in the city say it is now patrolled by death squads. Even the British admit that local Iraqi troops are unwilling to take on the Shia militias. As for the police — as elsewhere in Iraq — they remain ineffective and are heavily infiltrated by members of the militias.
"The army here in Basra is not good," admits Capt Allah Muthfer Abdullah, whose armoured battalion was brought down from Baghdad three months ago to shore up the local forces. "We don't trust them. The army here joins the militias at night and by day they come back to us.
We need more soldiers from Baghdad or the north — or a brigade of the US army." He blamed Iran for arming and supporting Basra's militias, claiming that the city was now more dangerous than the Iraqi capital.
Instead of going into Basra, British troops now patrol their base at the airport and make forays up to the border to deter smuggling and to show people they are still around. Many are disheartened by the lack of public support for the war back home. Soldiers from the 2nd Battalion, the Royal Welsh (the Royal Regiment of Wales), driving their Warrior armoured vehicles into the desert around the Rumaliyah oil fields, saw little point in fighting on.
His company commander, Major Sid Welham, said the heavily armed force had orders to keep clear of areas where they might encounter insurgents. "We are avoiding areas where we know there may be trouble, much like in Basra," he said.
But until the pull-out from the city six weeks ago, the Royal Welsh were in the thick of the fighting. Capt Kester and L/Cpl Thomas McAlister, 25, a Warrior driver, described missions into Basra that were so intense that they had to call in Tornado jets to strafe enemy positions, missions in which colleagues were killed, and firefights that lasted for hours as they tried to get their casualties out of danger.
At the same time, troops back in the base at Basra airport were enduring a daily barrage of rockets. Many in Britain were unaware of the sheer scale of the attacks. At one stage, 300 rockets a month were raining down on the camp. Capt Sarah Heyhoe, 26, a medic attached to 2 Royal Welsh, described how doctors continued to treat patients even when the hospital was hit, though the lights had gone out and the rooms had filled with smoke. "You can't stop an operation," she explained, bashfully.
U.S. Wants British 'Surge' In S. Iraq: PaperMarch 25, 2008 - Associated Press:
LONDON - The U.S. plans to urge Britain to launch a "surge" in Basra to combat increasing violence in the southern Iraqi region, the Sunday Mirror newspaper reported.
Britain, which has around 4,100 troops in Iraq, transferred control to Iraqi forces in December last year but could now be asked to step up its role again amid top-level concern about the situation, the paper said.
"U.S. and Iraqi forces are involved in a huge operation to attack an Al-Qaeda stronghold in Mosul.
"But after that, the plan is to turn the coalition's attention on to Basra and we will be urging the British to surge into the city.
"If they do not have enough troops, then they will be offered U.S .Marines to help out.
"The feeling is that if southern Iraq is hugely unstable, it will affect the success of the surge in the north and destabilize the whole country."
The source added: "The proposal to go back into Basra is being examined at the highest level in Baghdad."
U.S. military commanders say that a "surge" of 30,000 U.S. troops since last January is partly responsible for a dip in violence in Iraq.
But unnamed senior British civil service sources told the Sunday Mirror that Britain would be highly reluctant to go back into Basra because of pressure at home to pull troops out.
"We do not have enough troops for a surge ourselves. The hope is that we can train enough Iraqi army recruits in the next year to cope with the inter-tribal warfare going on in Basra," one source quoted by the paper said.
A Ministry of Defence spokesman said British forces were giving "important support" to Iraqi forces in the Basra area but "retain the ability to re-intervene on the ground, in the unlikely event of such a request from the Iraqis."
The spokesman added: "We have regular discussions with our coalition partners and the Iraqi government, and they support our approach."
Iraqi forces clashed with Shiite militias in the southern oil port of Basra on Tuesday as a security plan to clamp down on violence between rival militia factions in the region began.27 March, 2008 - VOA:
With tensions rising, Muqtada al-Sadr's headquarters in Najaf ordered field commanders with his Mahdi Army militia to go on high alert and prepare "to strike the occupiers" and their Iraqi allies, a militia officer said.
The officer, speaking on condition of anonymity because he wasn't supposed to release the information, also said the movement had ordered its supporters to join a civil disobedience campaign nationwide.
Update: Followers of radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr have called for a nationwide civil disobedience campaign to protest raids and detentions.
The head of the Sadrist parliamentary bloc says the move comes because of the continued U.S. and Iraqi actions against the movement's Mahdi Army militia despite a cease-fire. Nassar al-Rubaie has demanded that the raids stop, Sadrist detainees be released and an official apology be issued.
Iraqi PM Vows to Continue Basra Offensive Despite ProtestsMarch 30, 2008 - McClatchy:
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki says he will continue the Iraqi military offensive in Basra "to the end" with no negotiations or retreat, despite angry protests in Shi'ite districts calling for his resignation. VOA Correspondent Challiss McDonough has been monitoring events from our Middle East Bureau in Cairo and reports intense fighting in Basra continued for a third day.
Iraqi lawmakers traveled to the Iranian holy city of Qom over the weekend to win the support of the commander of Iran's Qods brigades in persuading Shiite cleric Muqtada al Sadr to order his followers to stop military operations, members of the Iraqi parliament said.April 1, 2008 - The Australian:
Sadr ordered the halt on Sunday, and his Mahdi Army militia heeded the order in Baghdad, where the Iraqi government announced it would lift a 24-hour curfew starting early Monday in most parts of the capital.
But fighting continued in the oil hub of Basra, where a six-day-old government offensive against Shiite militias has had only limited gains.
No peace in Basra despite Sadr callMarch 31, 2008 - The New York Times:
HOPES for a ceasefire in Iraq's developing Shia civil war were swiftly undermined yesterday when the Government said it would not stop attacking outlaw militia members, despite an offer from militia leaders to freeze the conflict.
Fierce fighting went on in areas of Basra loyal to Moqtada al-Sadr, despite the rebel cleric's call to his militiamen to put down their weapons.
Sadr's statement was hammered out in elaborate negotiations over the past few days with senior Iraqi officials, some of whom travelled to Iran to meet the Shia cleric, according to several officials involved in the discussions.
Calling on my experience as a captain in the Iraqi Army before the 2003 invasion and essentially a war correspondent since then, I headed to Basra to see if I could make my way into the city and see what was happening there.April 16, 2008 - Xinhua:
Gun battles broke out unpredictably, so I ran or walked when it was quiet, then dropped down and sought cover when I could hear shooting. After 45 minutes or so, I came upon the Rumaila Hotel in a central neighborhood called Ashar. Amazingly, it was open, with six or seven guests inside and a couple of employees. I was so exhausted I didn't think twice, just checked in.
The next day I moved around as much as I could. The common observation was this: There was nowhere the Mahdi either did not control or could not strike at will.
On Saturday I was talking with a colleague on my cellphone when a gun battle started right outside the hotel. It was so loud I couldn't hear the voice on the other end of the line anymore. I dived into a corner of my room and waited for it to end.
A while after the shooting stopped, some other residents of the hotel and I went outside. The street was littered with the shells of heavy machine guns where the Mahdi Army had fired toward another hotel, the Meerbad, where Ministry of Interior officials were staying, perhaps 50 yards away. We could see their pickup trucks, now full of bullet holes, in the parking lot of the hotel.
I decided to leave Basra. I took the white flag with me.
Coalition air strikes kill four gunmen in Iraq's BasraApril 20, 2008 - Associated Press:
Coalition air strikes hit insurgents' positions in Iraq's southern city of Basra early Wednesday, killing four gunmen and wounding another, a coalition spokesman said.
"A coalition aircraft conducted an air strike on a group of gunmen who were firing rocket propelled grenades on Iraqi security forces in Basra's western neighborhood of Haiyyania at about 1:30 a.m. (2230 GMT on Tuesday)," Captain Chris Ford, spokesman of the Multi National Forces in Basra, told Xinhua.
The attack killed four insurgents and wounded a fifth, Ford added.
According to the spokesman, another coalition aircraft struck a vehicle in the same neighborhood, but the casualties were unclear.
A source from Sadr office in the Haiyyania neighborhood confirmed the second attack, saying an Apache helicopter fired a missile on a civilian car carrying several gunmen of Mahdi Army militia, loyal to the radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.
Secretary of State Rice Mocks Muslim Cleric Muqtada al-Sadr as a CowardApril 25, 2008 - The London Times:
BAGHDAD — Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice mocked anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr as a coward on Sunday, hours after the radical leader threatened to declare war unless U.S. and Iraqi forces end a military crackdown on his followers.
Rice, in the Iraqi capital to tout security gains and what she calls an emerging political consensus, said al-Sadr is content to issue threats and edicts from the safety of Iran, where he is studying.
"I know he's sitting in Iran," Rice said dismissively, when asked about al-Sadr's latest threat to lift a self-imposed cease-fire with government and U.S. forces. "I guess it's all-out war for anybody but him," Rice said. "I guess that's the message; his followers can go too their deaths and he's in Iran."
Young women are daring to wear jeans, soldiers listen to pop music on their mobile phones and bands are performing at wedding parties again.April 27, 2008 - ABC (Australia):
All across Iraq’s second city life is improving, a month after Iraqi troops began a surprise crackdown on the black-clad gangs who were allowed to flourish under the British military. The gunmen’s reign had enforced a strict set of religious codes.
Driving through Basra in a convoy with the Iraqi general leading the Charge of the Knights operation, The Times passed Iraqi security forces manning checkpoints and patrolling the roads. Not a hostile shot was fired as the convoy turned into what was until the weekend the most notorious neighbourhood in the city. Hayaniya, a teeming slum, was a bastion for al-Mahdi Army, the main militia.
For the first time in four years local residents have been emboldened to stand up to the militants and are turning in caches of weapons. Army checkpoints have been erected across Basra and traffic police are also out in force.
The security forces have also torn down many banners supporting al-Mahdi Army as well as portraits of its leader, Moqtada al-Sadr, though some still remain in militia strongholds.
Iraqis take last Sadr bastion in Basra: USAugust, 2008 - The London Times:
Iraqi forces have taken control of the last militia stronghold of radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr in the southern city of Basra, the US military said in a statement on Saturday.
It said Iraqi troops began the last stage of Operation Saulat al-Farsan (Charge of the Knights) on Friday in Basra's northern neighbourhood of Al-Huteen, a bastion of Sadr's Mahdi Army militia.
Secret deal kept British Army out of battle for Basra
A secret deal between Britain and the notorious al-Mahdi militia prevented British Forces from coming to the aid of their US and Iraqi allies for nearly a week during the battle for Basra this year, The Times has learnt.
Four thousand British troops – including elements of the SAS and an entire mechanised brigade – watched from the sidelines for six days because of an “accommodation” with the Iranian-backed group, according to American and Iraqi officers who took part in the assault.
US Marines and soldiers had to be rushed in to fill the void, fighting bitter street battles and facing mortar fire, rockets and roadside bombs with their Iraqi counterparts.
Hundreds of militiamen were killed or arrested in the fighting. About 60 Iraqis were killed or injured. One US Marine died and seven were wounded.
Under its terms, no British soldier could enter Basra without the permission of Des Browne, the Defence Secretary. By the time he gave his approval, most of the fighting was over and the damage to Britain’s reputation had already been done.
Senior British defence sources told The Times that Nouri al-Maliki, the Iraqi Prime Minister, who ordered the assault, and high-ranking US military officers had become disillusioned with the British as a result of their failure to act. Another confirmed that the deal, negotiated by British Intelligence, had been a costly mistake.
The arrangement fell apart on March 25 when Mr al-Maliki ordered his surprise assault on Basra, catching both the Americans and British off-guard.
The Americans responded by flying in reinforcements, providing air cover and offering the logistical and other support needed for the Iraqis to win.
The British were partly handicapped because their commander, Major-General Barney White-Spunner, was away on a skiing holiday when the attack began. When Brigadier Julian Free, his deputy, arrived to discuss the situation with Mr al-Maliki at the presidential palace in Basra, he was made to wait outside.
A senior British defence source agreed that the battle for Basra had been damaging to Britain’s reputation in Iraq. “Maliki, and the Americans, felt the British were morally impugned by the deal they had reached with the militia. The British were accused of trying to find the line of least resistance in dealing with the Shia militia,” said the source.
“You can accuse the Americans of many things, such as hamfistedness, but you can’t accuse them of not addressing a situation when it arises. While we had a strategy of evasion, the Americans just went in and addressed the problem.”
Excellent, excellent, excellent.
I've said it many times, you need to write not just one, but a handful of histories of what NEVER got reported in MSM from 2003-2008.
You have the historian's eye for detail, and the novelist's eye for story line. All backed up by an encyclopedic catalog of sources.
We're lucky to have you on the job.Posted by dadmanly at August 7, 2008 01:41 PM
That obviously took a lot of time and effort, but I will remember that long after I would have forgotten a commentary setting out the same facts. Great storytelling in the best sense of the word.Posted by Jim H at August 7, 2008 01:57 PM
Outstanding compilation.Posted by Eric Blair at August 7, 2008 02:03 PM
Thank you so much for prominently featuring the Basra communiques by my husband Steven, I really appreciate it. He would be so proud to have his prescient and chillingly accurate words live on in this manner, and you have honored him, his legacy and his memory by including them in this post. Again, my gratitude.Posted by Lisa Ramaci-Vincent at August 7, 2008 02:46 PM
Should be some lesson in this for the Dems!Posted by FredJHarris at August 7, 2008 03:48 PM
Just a spectacular analysis of British fecklessness.
They made it safe so their royal could get his "battle experience" sitting a fortified outpost near the airport.
To be one-upped by the Iraqi Army must hurt their pride. But they tried the same "deal making" this spring in Afghanistan whonly to be outed by our intelligence. It's a sad day when we have to keep track of our allies this way.
While we are accused of throwing our weight around, no other military anywhere (with the possible exception of the Iraqis) has the guts and determination to win. Can you imagine the effectiveness of an EU army with 17 defense ministers having veto power over operations?
Thanks for this article. I know it took a lot of time and effort. It is great.Posted by Corky Boyd at August 7, 2008 03:49 PM
Very, very well done and utterly dammning. Yet another perspective on American success you will never see in the MSM.Posted by Chris Tolley at August 7, 2008 04:56 PM
I can't imagine a more persuasive way of telling this story. Excellent job.Posted by Tom Bowler at August 7, 2008 05:22 PM
Excellent history. Well done.
But I must point out that the British perception that the US tactics and strategy were wrong and 'hamfisted' was borne out by the US change of approach called the 'Surge'. The Brits may not have got it right either, but they did see trouble in the US methods.
So the problem of how to approach the situation was clearly quite difficult, and we must take that into account in grading the British approach and the US approach prior to the surge.
You shouldn't forget that the American's did not settle on a single monolithic approach.They tried different ones, and changed them if a given approach didn't work, or if another worked better.
As the situation on the ground changed, they changed, too. And the changes that worked tended not to be imposed from above, as much as developed by local area commands.
The British do not appear to have behaved in quite the same fashion.Posted by steveH at August 7, 2008 06:38 PM
This is phenomenal. I'm printing it out and reading it to my kids. Thank you!Posted by E C at August 7, 2008 08:42 PM
This is phenomenal. I'm printing it out and reading it to my kids. Thank you!Posted by E C at August 7, 2008 08:42 PM
This is an outstanding effort, telling a compelling story.
In light of this from the last article cited:
Four thousand British troops – including elements of the SAS and an entire mechanised brigade – watched from the sidelines for six days because of an “accommodation” with the Iranian-backed group...The British were partly handicapped because their commander, Major-General Barney White-Spunner, was away on a skiing holiday when the attack began.
I went looking for some info on the melodiously-named Maj. Gen. Barney White Spunner, and incredibly found this comment in a story on the "remarkable transformation" that resulted from the Basra operation:
General Barney is bashful about claiming credit for himself.
Personally, I think that would make a fitting epilogue to your post.
Posted by mimritty at August 7, 2008 09:44 PM
And here's Maj. Gen. White-Spunner in a July 2008 article, before the "accommodation" was (I presume) made widely public:
Major-General White-Spunner said the turnaround in Basra proved that Britain had been right to hand control of the province to the Iraqi authorities last December. At the time, the decision was described as premature by critics who said that Britain had failed to reign in the Mahdi Army and other Shia militias.
“I think our vindication if you like is in the [deployment] of the Iraqi Army now and the results that have been achieved. Look at the end product,” he said.
Posted by mimritty at August 7, 2008 09:55 PM
He doesn't sound all that "bashful about claiming credit for himself", if you ask me.
The Brits may not have got it right either, but they did see trouble in the US methods.
So, while not that effective militarily in Southern Iraq, their kibbitzing was first rate.
Sounds like Obama's "Nobody knows whether my cut and run idea would have worked or not because it was never tried."
Well it was tried, in Basra, and it didnt workPosted by Tim at August 7, 2008 10:51 PM
Our vindication is ... the results that have been achieved. Look at the end product
Are you sure that guy's name isn't Spinner, not SpunnerPosted by Tim at August 7, 2008 11:00 PM
Worst of all, it was a complete betrayal of the ordinary Iraqi citizens living in Basra. How could they do that? I don't understand why they didn't just go home.Posted by Sadie at August 8, 2008 04:23 AM
An outstanding archiving of truth in world history before Brit self-congratulatory (but influential) revisionism sets in MSM/academia concrete, for which we owe you great thanks!
Now, in your copious free time :>) , could you be moved to marshall a twin developmental narrative for the parallel fiasco that is the arrogant-yet- timorous British mishandling of its NATO responsibilities in southern Afghanistan: specifically, the disaster that is Helmand province, whereby we thuggish Americans had to recapture Musa Qala and Garmsir from the run-rampant Taliban/criminal drug elements for the self-sidelined, cowering Brits, who, now that we've restored them to their yielded-up AOs, are again mincing around preening themselves on their delusional colonial/N. Ireland/military experience capabilities?Posted by Diwata at August 8, 2008 05:53 AM
Great diary. You successfully prove the war for the Iraqi's hearts and minds has been an utter failure no matter the strategy.Posted by Russell at August 8, 2008 10:06 AM
On the contrary, Russell, it shows that you can dress up appeasement in all kinds of COIN finery, but it's still appeasement, which always leads to disaster.Posted by jordan at August 8, 2008 01:58 PM
You must have been in a different Basrah than I was...
I didn't add things up nearly as well as GH did. But I did record a few thoughts.Posted by Major John at August 8, 2008 05:28 PM Hide Comments | Show/Add Comments in Popup Window(21) | (Note: You must refresh main page to view newly posted comments here)