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Commentary Last Updated: Sep 5th, 2007 - 00:46:44

Will Basra prove US wrong?
By Linda S. Heard
Online Journal Contributing Writer

Sep 5, 2007, 00:44

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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 168 lives.�

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 action.

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 Hussein.�

British generals are less diplomatic, heaping abuse on the US.

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� decision.

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.

Linda S. Heard is a British specialist writer on Middle East affairs. She welcomes feedback and can be contacted by email at

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