Tony blair’s plans for Iraq lie in tatters. The headlines earlier this week told us that defence minister Des Browne was promising the withdrawal of “thousands” of British troops by the end of next year.
But Browne added that British troops will stay in the country to train Iraqi security forces, to “protect coalition supply routes” and to be on hand to intervene when necessary.
He refused to give a timetable for a final pull-out, saying, “I am not at this stage seeking to set out what the level of troop deployment will be in five or ten years.”
The truth is that the British government is not in control of the situation. Its forces have effectively ceded the security of Iraq’s second city, Basra, to Shia militias. Any reduction in troop numbers would create major difficulties in ever reasserting control over it.
From Ireland to Palestine, through India and Aden, the record shows that once British governments let the issue of withdrawal out of the bag, then events can move quickly towards a pull-out.
Meanwhile the final Italian troops are set to quit Iraq next month. The Polish government has said it will pull its remaining 900 soldiers out of Iraq by the end of 2007.
In the US the Pentagon is reported to want to attempt “one last big push” by committing an extra 25,000 to 30,000 troops to take control of Baghdad.
President George Bush is urging the Iraqi prime minister Nuri al-Maliki to confront the radical Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, whose forces have taken over radio and TV stations in the city.
Bush is set to meet the US’s closest Arab allies—Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan—to get them to commit support for Maliki. All of this would do little to enhance his shrinking popularity.
The US has done much to accelerate sectarian conflict by playing off different groups and following a traditional imperialist policy of divide and rule.
Des Browne’s admission that Iraq is “almost” in a state of civil war follows on from similar statements by United Nations general secretary Kofi Annan, who replied “we are almost there” when questioned as to whether civil war was underway in Iraq.
Significantly, the US television network NBC has decided to follow the Los Angeles Times in describing the situation in Iraq as a civil war.
This is something the White House has strongly resisted. It fears that it can only fuel growing domestic opposition to their occupation of Iraq.
The spiralling death toll in Iraq is a product of the occupation. Des Browne was forced to admit as much this week. That is one more vital reason why Britain and the US should get out of Iraq now.