When it comes to Iraq, we know all about the US surge and its effect – there are facts, figures and reporters in the US-controlled zone. But what’s happening in British-controlled Basra? We have little idea. When Brown pitched up yesterday to say he was handing over the security file because Iraqi police are now up to the job, we have to believe him. “There are now 30,000 Iraqi police and armed forces,” he said. “As a result of that we can move to provincial control over the next few weeks.”
Now, I tend to mistrust any assertion from Mr Brown with a statistic in it. I am more inclined to believe Arnaud de Borchgrave, editor-at-large of UPI, who said this in a Washington Times column last week:
“Who’s in charge in Basra today? Warlords and criminal gangs. Who controls them? Tehran, said a ranking Iraqi official, speaking privately, from his mobile phone in Baghdad.”
Ah, you may say, this is just a journalist. Surely the MoD can be trusted when they say the Iraqi police are capable of the jobs now? Well here’s a verdict on the readiness of the Basra police from their own commander Maj. Gen. Jalil Khalaf:
“Frankly speaking, we have rifles, machine-guns and a few armoured vehicles, which aren’t as advanced as the British weaponry and are insufficient to maintain full control of the province”. (Full story from AP here).
As one of the few who supported the Iraq war and still admits it, I find all this sickening. The moment this government sent our troops to invade Basra, they took on a moral obligation to leave it better than they found it. We have a duty not just to the Iraqis, but to the memory of the 171 servicemen and women who gave their lives in what was then described as Iraq’s liberation. And if that was going to be more expensive, then Mr Brown would have to pay.
The White House has increased spending, and Baghdad is reaping the benefits of its troop surge. There is increasing talk of how the US may now have to go to Basra – and provide the security that the British government was unwilling to fund. This would be a damning indictment of British military resolve. Labour under Blair and Brown was quick to send our forces into battle, but never willing to meet the financial cost of this exercise.
Britain invaded Iraq with 46,000 troops. By October 2003 it was 10,000 – and even that was enough to keep Basra secure. But the cuts continued, today it’s less than 5,000 and by the spring it will be a 2,500 – a force barely big enough to protect itself. This rapid withdrawal created a vacuum which Iranian-backed Shi’ite militias have happily filled.
Result: Brown is walking away from a Basra where the dictatorship of Saddam has been replaced by the dictatorship of religious extremists. The latest example: Iraqi police have so far found the mutilated bodies of 40 women with notes warning against “violating Islamic teachings”. This is the type of society we are leaving behind. Cutting and running is not the British way. Yet it is hard to conclude this isn’t exactly what our Prime Minister has done here.