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Tony Blair’s retreat in Iraq must be pushed further

The prime minister’s statement that some troops will be withdrawn from Iraq shows that he has lost the war and the argument, writes John Rees

Issue No. 2040

John Rees

John Rees

The government has explained its announcement of a limited troop withdrawal from southern Iraq by saying that the security situation in Basra has improved and that Iraqi security forces can now take over.

The first and most important point to understand is that this “explaination” is yet another in the long series of lies that Tony Blair has told over Iraq.

The truth is that far from being pacified by the British army, Basra is beyond their control.

The two main British bases in central Basra are the second and third most attacked military bases in the whole of Iraq.

A security briefing given to British MPs told that in one recent 150 day period, British bases were attacked on 130 of those days.


The British army rarely patrols and the Iraqi security forces they are supposed to be handing over to are more loyal to local Shia militias than to the US puppet government in Baghdad.

As the Independent’s Patrick Cockburn reported last week, “In a comment entitled ‘The British Defeat in Iraq’, the pre-eminent US analyst on Iraq, Anthony Cordesman of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, asserts that British forces lost control of the situation in and around Basra by the second half of 2005.

“Mr Cordesman says that while the British won some tactical clashes in Basra and Maysan province in 2004, that ‘did not stop Islamists from taking more local political power and controlling security at the neighbourhood level when British troops were not present’.

“As a result, southern Iraq has, in effect, long been under the control of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq and the so-called Sadrist factions.”

The government’s story is so threadbare that it can’t be made to fit the facts. Moreover, it does not even fit with other bits of government propaganda.

For instance, if, as the government claims, Iran is supplying weapons to the Iraqi resistance, these must be coming over the border in southern Iraq.

This is the very same area supposed to be so secure that the British army can leave.

And if the south is pacified but Baghdad still needs an extra 21,500 US troops to subdue it, why has Blair not redeployed the British army to help the US?

No, the truth is now out. The British have lost in Basra and they are starting to get out of Iraq before their defeat becomes even more evident.


The anti-war movement has had a lot to do with this.

Colonial occupations can inflict untold savagery thousands of miles away – they can even suffer great losses themselves – so long as their crimes don’t generate a political crisis at home.

The anti-war movement has made sure that every bit of resistance in Iraq has registered with the government as a deepening political crisis at home.

As Tony Blair leaves the political scene, the task of the anti-war movement is to turn this retreat by the government into a rout.

We must step up our campaigning against the war in Afghanistan. We must not allow the draw-down of troops in Iraq to be used as a clearing of the decks for an attack on Iran.

We must use this moment of transition in both Britain and the US to redouble our efforts. We must turn this crack in our opponents’ front into a breach that can end the “project for the new American century”.

More British soldiers sent to the chaos of Afghanistan

The British political establishment has its own reasons for wanting to retreat from Iraq.

One thing it fears is that the “overstretch” of fighting in both Iraq and Afghanistan is undermining the British army.

This was the concern of Sir Richard Dannatt, the head of the army, when he called last year for the troops to be withdrawn “soon”.

The heads of the army would prefer to concentrate on the war they think they can win in Afghanistan.

They regard this as a more conventional conflict which plays to the army’s strengths.

They also regard it as a more “morally justifiable” war that can be successfully sold to public opinion at home.

This is why the announcement of troop withdrawal from Iraq was quickly followed by an announcement of 1,400 more soldiers being sent to Afghanistan.

The anti-war movement will need to adjust its stance in response to this move.

The truth is that the war in Afghanistan is no more justified than that in Iraq.

Indeed, it is a callous and unnecessary war – because the US only invaded Afghanistan as a stepping stone to the invasion of Iraq.

Colin Powell persuaded George Bush that he had to invade Afghanistan first because it could be said to have some connection with Al Qaida and the 9/11 attacks, whereas Iraq had none.

The results have been disastrous in both countries. More British troops are now losing their lives in Afghanistan than Iraq.

The government they are protecting includes some of the most bloodstained warlords in the country.

And its decisions are largely taken by the occupying armies.

As the Economist reported this week, Britain’s General David Richards is “a highly political commander, taking on the job of speaking to Pakistan’s president General Musharraf soldier to soldier”.

Richards, the Economist continues, deals with “security, intelligence, strategic communications and development” in Afghanistan.

“The general wanted to add a fifth pillar, governance, but was overruled by President Hamid Karzai” – who presumably wanted to have something left with which to fill his days.

As for Afghanistan’s economic reconstruction, only one industry is booming under the occupation – heroin.

The production of opium poppies leapt by 60 percent across the country in the last 12 months.

Afghanistan is now the source of 90 percent of the world’s heroin.

The United Nations expects another rise in poppy cultivation this year.

The US and Britain’s war in Afghanistan is a war to protect a warlord-ridden puppet government presiding over an massive rise in heroin production.

John Rees is national secretary of Respect and author of Imperialism and Resistance, available from Bookmarks, phone 020 7637 1848 or go to

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Sat 3 Mar 2007, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 2040
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