It looks as though the British are slinking out of Basra in
the hope their retreat won�t be noticed. Their headquarters at Saddam�s old
palace was bequeathed to the Iraqi military at 4.30 a.m. Monday. Or to be
precise uniform-wearing Shiite militias, which control the south.
For now, the 5,500 British remnant of the original 45,000
contingent is to be holed up at the airport on the city�s outskirts, awaiting a
politically opportune moment to depart. We�ll probably wake up one day to
discover they�ve all flown home to mom, tea and sympathy.
In some circles this is being billed as an ignominious
defeat. Right-wing US publications hint at betrayal. There are questions as to
whether the �special relationship� is still as special.
Others, such as the American Thinker is more forthright:
�The British retreat from Basra is simply the culmination of the BBC�s
anti-American hate campaign for the last few decades,� goes the article, which
blasts Britain and calls for a US withdrawal from NATO.
�If we do not receive full reciprocity (from our allies),
they do not deserve our protection,� is its bitter sting in the tail.
Some Iraqi politicians warn of a power vacuum and an ensuing
bloodbath. Firebrand Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr, who commands the Mehdi Army,
is openly gleeful.
�The British have realized this is not a war they should be
fighting or one they can win,� he told the Independent. �They are retreating
because of the resistance they have faced,� he said while praising his Mehdi
Army for its role in driving them out.
It�s interesting that Sadr has ordered a six-month
moratorium on attacks against coalition forces. He said this will give the
Mehdi Army time to regroup, but there is some suggestion it may be part of a
deal with Britain.
The British deny any such collusion, but let�s face it both
parties benefit. British troops can withdraw relatively free of pursuing
bullets and missiles, and due to their absence Sadr can tighten his grip on the
south. Moreover, in the admittedly unlikely event peace were to reign, this
would provide grist to the mill of those calling for a US withdrawal.
British newspapers are at odds over the pullout.
The Sun is awash with photographs of grinning, thumbs-up
British soldiers under the heading, �The job�s done for our boys.�
�British troops took the first steps toward handing power
back to the Iraqis last night -- feeling proud of a job well done,� writes the
Sun�s defense editor.
�The momentous move could spell the end of Britain�s
disastrous campaign in Iraq� is the message from the Mirror.
The Independent asks, �What was achieved?� and runs a column
by Patrick Cockburn titled �Ignominious end to futile exercise that cost the UK
The Guardian highlights the cheers of people in Basra as
British troops left and quotes a local resident as saying, �We are pleased that
the Iraqi Army is now taking over the situation -- we as an Iraqi people reject
occupation, we reject colonialism -- we want our freedom.�
Prime Minister Gordon Brown and his senior ministers are
naturally more upbeat. Brown told the BBC that far from being a defeat the move
was organized and pre-planned.
Defense Secretary Des Browne and Foreign Secretary David Miliband were driven to write a
joint article that was published in the Washington Post defending the British
The pair admit the British force �could not create in four
years in Iraq, the democracy, governance and security that it took Great Britain
and the United States centuries to establish," while putting the blame on
�decades of misrule, deliberate neglect and violent oppression under Saddam
British generals are less diplomatic, heaping abuse on the
Gen. Sir Mike Jackson, who led the 2003 British invasion,
recently labeled the approach of the then US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld
�intellectually bankrupt� and blames his refusal to commit troops to nation
building for the mess Iraq is in today.
Retired Maj. Gen. Tim Cross, responsible for postwar
planning, termed the Bush administration�s policy in Iraq as being �fatally
flawed." Peter Kilfoyle, a former defense minister, agrees with both of
them but regrets they failed to speak out earlier.
These attacks on the US military are going down like a lead
brick in Washington with top advisers to George Bush blaming Britain for a
deteriorating security situation in the south.
Bush still urges coalition allies to stay the course. �We
need all our coalition partners,� he told Sky News. He said he understood that
�everybody has got their own internal policies� but stressed there was more
work to do defeating Al-Qaeda and Iranian-backed insurgents.
The US President is increasingly isolated in his �dog with a
bone," ideologically based approach.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki has gone out of his way
to show he�s no Washington puppet and refuses to take the fall for US failures.
Veteran Republican Sen. John Warner has openly called for US troops to be
withdrawn by Christmas.
Some 49 percent of the American public believes the
so-called surge has failed even before the verdicts of Gen. David Petraeus and
Ambassador Ryan Crocker expected to be delivered to Congress next week. Bush�s
famous promise to stick with the plan even if Laura and his dog are his only
supporters may soon become an unpalatable reality.
The war gang, consisting of Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz,
Richard Perle, Karl Rove, Scooter Libby and Alberto Gonzalez, have disappeared
under various clouds. Only Cheney is left. The British defection could signify
a fatal blow to Bush�s credibility at home. As a Brit who was against this war
from day one, I�m delighted we�re on our way out of the fray. This was Blair�s
blunder. Gordon Brown should be saluted for his �better late than never�
I only pray the Iraqis will put aside their differences and
step up to the plate to show the world that they�re the only ones who can
rebuild their nation and put hurt feelings to rest. If Basra emerged as a
model, US arguments for sticking around where they weren�t wanted would be
demolished. That�s my hope but, in truth, I�m not holding my breath.
S. Heard is a British specialist writer on Middle East affairs. She welcomes
feedback and can be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.