Sunday, December 16, 2007

Iraqis Celebrate British Handover in Basra

The official handover of Basra province by the British occupation forces to the Iraqi authorities was marked by celebrations in Basra today. But what was achieved and how does it affect ordinary Iraqis? Why did it happen, and was this a real 'handover' anyway? Here are some comments from the mainstream media.
"Meanwhile inside the city which British troops have not entered since their withdrawal from Saddam Hussein's former palace three-and-a-half months ago, Iraqis paraded and celebrated what they called an "historic day".

The handover of control of security in the province is the biggest landmark yet on the path to full British withdrawal from Iraq. It comes at a time when extra forces may be needed in Afghanistan." [ITN]

“We knew we would succeed [in toppling Saddam], there was never any doubt, and we all knew that we would then enter a honeymoon period of peace-support operations which would be vital in winning hearts and minds. But when the initial fighting was over we were left with a force smaller than that which was based in Northern Ireland.” [The Times]

"The British have never sought to maintain the same level of control as the Americans did over the provinces the U.S. oversaw after the 2003 invasion. Since elections in 2005, southern Iraq has been under the domain of religious Shiite parties and their militia allies.

All of which means the British are handing over something local power players already possess.

"I don't think there is a handover. You've never had real British control of Basra or the area," said Anthony Cordesman, of the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "What you are really watching is a sort of nominal transfer of authority to the central government and Iraqi forces." [Associated Press]
Last week a British infantry officer wrote on the internet forum Arrse: “To anyone who thinks we have made it a better place, we haven’t.” [The Times]
Finally, this is by no means a British withdrawal. At the end of May 2007 there were 5,500 British troops in Iraq. By Christmas 2007, The MOD expects there to be around 4,500 and that this number will fall to around 2,500 from next Spring. No date has been set for withdrawal.

The British misadventure in Iraq is far from over.