08 August 2007
Britain may withdraw from Iraq by the end of this year.
It looks to this writer as if the British are preparing to retreat from Iraq, probably before the end of the year. Three factors lead to this conclusion:
First, Over the next month or so the British will hand over their last base in Basra to whatever Iraqi force can hold it until the last British soldier has left. Once this happens the British occupation will consist of Basra Airport and nothing else. We can expect to see the 30 or so tanks that the British have in Iraq withdrawn, as well as some of the armoured troop carriers. The excuse for this will be that they are no longer needed, given that the British will then be acting as an "overwatch" force.
Secondly, the Americans have begun criticising the British semi-openly. The Vice-President, Dick Cheney, said on Monday that "No one could plead ignorance of the potential consequences of walking away from Iraq now." At the time this was taken as an attack on Congress, but it is just as likely that it was the British he had in mind.
Other attacks are less coded. According to Ken Pollock of the Brookings Institute, Basra is like the "wild, wild west," while the British do nothing other than "remain holed up in Basra airport".
Anonymous reports coming via the American press have it that the British have failed in Basra, and "have basically been defeated in the south".
Viewed overall, it looks as if the Americans have discovered something, and are preparing their public for a British troop evacuation. A war of words then seems likely, as Americans claim that the British are cowards, and that the war has been lost through their failure.
Thirdly, there is the little matter of the Iraqi collaborators. This campaign to withdraw them started amongst the blogs, but it has now been picked up by the Murdock press. Why has this happened? Probably as part of the disinformation campaign that has to be a part of any withdrawal. If the collaborators are withdrawn, then it will be obvious to every Iraqi with an AK-47 rifle that the British are getting ready to leave. However, if the collaborators are still around, then it buys valuable time for the British to get their heavy equipment out of the country in stages.
The last thing anybody wants is for Iraqis who sat on the fence earlier in the war to start proving to their new rulers - whoever they might be - that they were keen as mustard patriots all along. Far better to keep the collaborators in country so that everything looks normal on the surface.
One the heavy gear has been lifted out most of the 5,000 remaining troops will be withdrawn, probably by air. The last thing to do will be to blow up the remaining stores and wave a weary farewell to Iraq.
So when will all this happen? It could have begun already, but a more likely date would be next month when the American General David Petraeus makes his report to Washington. The British will probably use the debate that will follow to provide yet more smoke to cover the withdrawal. Expect soothing noises from London.
It could all be over very soon, and then the political repercussions can begin.