Socialist Worker

The British army was defeated in Basra, Mr Brown

by Anindya Bhattacharyya
Issue No. 2067

The British army has been resoundingly defeated in Iraq – and the only person who doesn't know it is prime minister Gordon Brown.

The public in Britain knows it. An opinion poll in the wake of this week's pullout from the Iraqi city of Basra found that two thirds believe the British army is losing in Iraq and over half believe the war is already lost.

The US military knows it. A series of senior US officials have attacked the British decision to leave Basra. General Jack Keane complained of a 'general disengagement' by the British in the face of 'gangland warfare'.

And the Iraqi people know it. Crowds gathered on the streets of Basra on Monday to cheer the British army's departure.

'They are colonialists,' said Rudha Muter, a local resident. 'We as an Iraqi people reject occupation. We reject colonialism – we want our freedom.'

But Brown is in denial – desperately trying to spin the withdrawal as a 'handover' to Iraqi forces.

When asked directly whether the Basra pullout was a 'defeat', Brown blustered about how British troops are still playing an 'overwatch role' in Iraq.

In fact the British presence in Basra has been under constant attack for months, with mortar shells regularly pounding their base in Basra Palace until they announced their withdrawal.

Ignominious

The notion that the withdrawal is anything but an ignominious defeat is just the latest lie trotted out in this war.

But for Brown it is a lie with a purpose.

While he knows that Iraq is a political disaster, he also wants to maintain relations with George Bush by keeping a token British presence in the country no matter what the cost.

Pat Long from Tyneside knows these costs all too well – her 24 year old son Paul was killed in Iraq four years ago, one of 168 British army deaths in Iraq.

'They have left it all far too late – this should have happened a long time ago,' she told the Shields Gazette.

'The best thing they can do now is get all the troops out of Iraq. They shouldn't have been there in the first place. It was never our war – it was the US's war, and was all about oil.'

She also attacked the government's plans to deploy troops currently in Iraq to an equally futile occupation in Afghanistan. 'They're just going to be sent from one war zone to another,' she said.

Meanwhile the wider ­occupation of Iraq continues to spiral into crisis. Last week saw a war of words breaking out between retired generals as the top brass traded recriminations across the Atlantic.

General Sir Mike Jackson, head of the British army during the 2003 invasion of Iraq, savagely attacked US policymakers as 'intellectually bankrupt'.

All this comes as the US's Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, is set to release a report finding that the Bush administration has only met three of the 18 'benchmarks' of progress it set to monitor the 'surge' of US troops in Iraq.

Some reports say Bush is furious with Brown for retreating from Basra at such a sensitive time.

General David Petraeus, commander of US forces in Iraq, is shortly due to publish his own report into whether Bush's 'surge' strategy has worked.

Whatever the report finds, it is likely to inflame the political situation in the US yet further.

Unpopular

The war is deeply unpopular and with presidential elections looming next year, Bush's former allies in the Republican Party are deserting him.

Now is the time for the anti-war movement to say loud and clear to Brown that half measures are not good enough.

The British presence in Iraq is a pointless waste of life that helps no one apart from Bush's increasingly isolated circle of warmongers.

The Stop the War Coalition has launched an open letter to the prime minister calling on him to 'bring all the British troops out of Iraq immediately, regardless of US plans'.

It is calling on supporters to help fund an advert in the Guardian highlighting the issue.

Stop the War is also organising a national demonstration outside parliament on Monday 8 October to ram home the troops out message to MPs returning to the Commons that day from their summer break.

It is the anti-war movement that is responsible for turning the military defeat in Iraq into a political disaster for this warmongering government.

The demo on 8 October is our chance to hold MPs to account – and to demand an end to all Britain's bloody imperial adventures.

World Against War Conference – an international peace conference with delegations from across the Middle East, South America, South Asia, the US and Europe. Saturday 1 December, Westminster Hall, London.

To book, or to fund the Stop the War advert in the Guardian, phone Stop the War on 020 7278 6694. For further details go to » www.stopwar.org.uk


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