Thursday, September 06, 2007


U.S. troops may be sent to Basra if British troops withdraw

(The Times) - The US military has drawn up contingency plans to send American troops to Basra if Gordon Brown decides to pull out the entire British force, an American general revealed yesterday. Britain still had “several missions” in southern Iraq, which the US expected it to fulfil. But if the Prime Minister withdrew all 5,000 remaining British troops, the US might have to “send some forces down there”, said Lieutenant-General Raymond Odierno, the second-most-senior US commander in Iraq.
That is the last thing the Bush Administration would want to do at a time when it faces growing domestic pressure to bring home troops, and the US military is already overstretched. A British withdrawal would be regarded in Washington as little short of betrayal. General Odierno
chose his words carefully when asked about Basra, Iraq’s anarchic second city. He said he was comfortable with the British withdrawal from Basra Palace this week, noting that the Iraqi security forces had become a “bit more effective” and reinforcements would arrive within 30 days.
But questioned about the implications for the US military if British troops were withdrawn entirely from southern Iraq, General Odierno pointedly listed Britain’s continuing responsibilities there - maintaining a headquarters in the region, training Iraqi security forces, supporting the coalition’s political work, securing supply routes to the rest of Iraq and providing quick reaction forces. “There are still several missions we need them to do down there and we have laid it out for them,” he said.
“We believe right now that the British forces will stay there in some size. That’s what we have been told so far.”
But he acknowledged that a general election was looming, and disclosed that the US had drawn up contingency plans in case Mr Brown decided to withdraw the entire force: “One could be that we do allow the Iraqis to do most of it and don’t send anyone else down there. One could be that we send some forces down there.”
Basra has been unusually calm since the British withdrew from the palace on Monday. A British army spokesman said the city was quiet. Police said there had been no killings or kidnappings. Iraqi security forces are on the streets in large numbers, and the Iraqi police and Army, who usually steer clear of each other, are manning joint checkpoints. Residents said that the only gunfire heard in the city yesterday came from Iraqi soldiers celebrating their takeover of the palace.
General Odierno was speaking just days before General David Petraeus, the top US commander in Iraq, gives Congress his verdict on President Bush’s controversial “surge” strategy, which has resulted in 30,000 extra troops deployed to Iraq this year, bringing the total to 160,000. The idea of expanding US operations further in Iraq would encounter fierce resistance in Washington at a time when Democrats, and some Republicans, are demanding a timetable for withdrawing US troops from a conflict that has cost 3,700 soldiers their lives and $10 billion (£5 billion) a week.
COMMENT: The major players in the power struggle in the south are the Mahdi Army militia loyal to anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and the Supreme Islamic Council of Iraq, the country's largest Shiite political party and the patron of the Badr militia. Security forces in the region are known to be dominated by supporters of the Supreme Council, led by Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, whose family has been locked in a long-running competition with al-Sadr's family over leadership of Iraq's Shiites. Al-Sadr's supporters are primarily poor Shiites who gain from the services offered by the group and obtain a sense of empowerment through membership of the Mahdi Army. In contrast, the Supreme Council is perceived as a magnet of middle- and upper-class Shiites and enjoying the endorsement of the wealthy and traditional clerical leadership. Additionally there is the Shiite Fadhela Party, an Iranian presence and tribal rivalries. Not to mention the vast amounts of money made through theft and smuggling of oil and corrupt dealings. COMMENT ENDS.

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