Withdrawal method

Having just returned from ten days of rank weather and top-rate beer in Britain, it was interesting to see that the main international talking point on Newsnight was the withdrawal of British forces from Iraq. The 5,500 British troops in Iraq are now concentrated at Basra airport, having handed over control of the areas they previously patrolled to Iraqi security forces, which was the aim all along. British government and army sources claim that the areas they’ve handed over had been pacified and that the Iraqis are up to the job, though there is plenty of doubt surrounding this assertion.

US general Jack Keane has laid into the disengagement of British forces, who he claims have given up on enforcing security in an increasingly violent region to focus on training up Iraquis to do the job. Security concerns have also been voiced by the more impartial International Crisis Group, and credibility-seeking Lib-Dem leader, Ming Campbell, has predictably piled in with his own list of grievances.

PM Brown says there’s no timeline for withdrawal, but discreetly packing all troops into the airport compound does make the UK look a bit like a soon-to-abscond wife with a ready-packed suitcase under the bed. And the fact that military sources have been hyping up Afghanistan (not a vote-loser to the same extent as Iraq) as the main priority – for which they need the troops currently posted in Iraq – also raises suspicions.

Comparisons will be drawn with Zapatero’s pull-out of Spanish forces following his election victory in 2004, and ZP also compensated in international circles by upping troop levels in Afghanistan. Like ZP, Brown represents a country whose population opposed the intervention on a grand scale. However, unlike Brown, ZP had not voted in favour of the war, and the collateral damage of a pull-out was nothing like as high. If Brown wants Britain to continue punching above its weight he might want to bear in mind that a premature withdrawal could plonk Britain off the international stage as far as the US and others are concerned.

Domestic politics invariably influences international policy. Brown may be contemplating early elections in order to capitalise on the ‘Brown bounce’ and to consolidate himself as a democratically elected PM, rather than a party-appointed replacement for Blair, so an Iraq cut-and-run strategy may be a way of boosting his popularity, especially if smoothed over with a bit of job done rhetoric. However, the übermoralist and preacher’s son may find that shipping-out whilst things are hotting up in Basra has adverse effects, with Iraqi lives becoming tradeable currency in an election campaign.

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~ by Daniel on August 30, 2007.

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