Socialist Worker

Britain’s failing presence in Iraq and Afghanistan

by Lindsey German convenor, Stop the War Coalition (personal capacity)
Issue No. 2065

The game is pretty well up for the British presence in Iraq. Opinions as diverse as Menzies Campbell, the leader of the Liberal Democrats, and rebel leader Moqtada al-Sadr, whose base is among Shia in Baghdad’s Sadr City and in the south of the country centred on Basra, agree.

Campbell says that British forces can “achieve nothing” if they stay in Iraq. Sadr says, “The British have given up and they know they will be leaving Iraq soon.”

Their views coincide with those of much of the British military, who have presided over ever growing numbers of casualties.

They are attempting to retreat from their base at Basra palace to one at the airport on the outskirts of the city.

The palace is one of the most dangerous bases in Iraq, with over 300 rocket and mortar attacks on it in the past two months. Despite claims that most fighting in Iraq is between Iraqis, in Basra 90 percent of attacks are against British troops.

The Iraq war has been a disaster from day one, with resistance in Iraq itself and mass domestic opposition to government policy – opposition that forced Tony Blair out of office two years before he wanted to go.

Labour politicians recognise this and would desperately like to find a solution, with many hints that Gordon Brown is going to announce a troop withdrawal as early as October.

But Brown is not his own master. Despite early suggestions that he would distance himself from George Bush, he sped across the Atlantic last month to reassure the US that the “special relationship” was intact.

No solution

Defence minister Des Browne told the Guardian newspaper last week that any “drawdown” of troops in Iraq depends on agreement with the US.

No surprises there then. But it is becoming equally clear that the US “surge” launched by Bush in the new year has failed, the pro-US government in Iraq is collapsing and there is no solution for the US either.

Predictions now include an ignominious retreat for the British, as they clamber Saigon style onto helicopters leaving the south. But if that happens it leaves the US forces in the rest of Iraq exposed.

It also leaves US and British foreign policy in tatters. This is increasingly becoming clear in Afghanistan as well as in Iraq.

The politicians still do not recognise this, believing that withdrawal from Iraq can allow them to concentrate on what they regard as a “good war” further east.

Yet here too the situation is worsening, with growing opposition to Nato troops because of heavy civilian casualties, greater support for the Taliban, and further weakening of Hamid Karzai’s government.

Despite then defence secretary John Reid declaring 18 months ago that the troops might leave Helmand province in the south without a shot being fired in anger, the troops there are involved in a serious and escalating war.

The head of the British army Sir Richard Dannatt said that the army was stretched. He compared the fighting to that in Korea or Normandy in the past.

One illustration of this is the number wounded in action, with 223 out of 1,500 frontline troops admitted to hospital in the past 18 months.

Medals and pay rises are being offered to improve troops’ morale. It will need more than that in a war which is set to get worse. It has all the makings of a long, colonial war with increasing casualties, loss of support from the local population and a growing realisation back here that it is unwinnable.

World Against War conference

The Stop the Coalition is organising a World Against War international conference for anti-war activists from Britain and across the world, in London on Saturday 1 December.

Support is already building for the conference. The PCS civil service workers’ union at Defra in London has already voted to back the conference.

Branch secretary Keith Crane said, “Our branch executive committee has agreed to sponsor the conference and to send delegates. We hope that many other union branches will do the same. Together we saw off Tony Blair. Now we need to ensure that the troops are brought home.”

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Tue 21 Aug 2007, 19:11 BST
Issue No. 2065
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