The British Withdrawal from Basra

Basrapalace1 "The US soldiers are expected to move south early next year, when Downing Street hopes to begin a scale down that will lead to a complete departure. Iraqi sources last night confirmed earlier reports that Britain would pull its remaining 500 troops out of Basra Palace – the last remaining garrison in the city itself – in a matter of days, paving the way for a full scale withdrawal in the coming months.

But the British officer also added: "It’s clear from talking to the Americans that they are going to have to fill the gap we will leave.

The feeling is that the moment the vacuum opens there the Iranian Revolutionary Guard will be in like a shot. The Americans are talking about sending a brigade, but it’s still fluid."

The likely US presence in the south is smaller than the 5,500 strong British force currently deployed, but US brigades come with far more air power than their counterparts."  The Independent


I have a lot of respect for British troops, but there is no doubt that the vacuum created in southern Iraq by their government’s decision to withdraw them will have to be filled by US troops.  This is yet another burden for a force that is already too small.

I have written often of the danger posed by the exposed US supply line in the same area.  That supply line will have to be protected.  In the same way, the city of Basra can not be completely surrendered to ISCI, the Sadrists and/or their Iranian friends.


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16 Responses to The British Withdrawal from Basra

  1. Binh says:

    One combat brigade to hold the gateway to southern Iraq? Sounds like Custer’s Last Stand in Arabic.
    Also, wanted to post this article because its relevant to the Col. vs “oilies” debate:
    Iraq lowers light crude oil price for USA and increases it for Asia and Europe
    Al SumariaTV – [8/21/2007]
    An Iraqi official announced that Iraq lowered the official selling price of Basra light crude oil destined to be exported to the USA. In the meantime it raised the same which is destined to be delivered to Asian and European
    The official said that Iraq’s State Oil Marketing Organization, SOMO, fixed
    the price for the US buyers equal to West Texas crude oil price decreased by $6.8, after it was decreased by $4.4 in the current month. However, SOMO, increased light crude oil price for Asian buyers and fixed it according to Oman and Dubai crude oil average price decreased by $1.2, after its was decreased by $1.8 during the current month.

  2. Montag says:

    There was a news report that when a ridiculously small contingent of British soldiers withdrew, turning over a Police Operations Headquarters to the nominal Iraqi National Forces, a militia simply swooped in and looted the place.
    Macchiavelli has a stark appraisal in “The Prince:”
    “Auxiliary forces–the other kind of useless troops–are those supplied by a foreign power which has been called upon for assistance. . . . Such forces may be useful and trustworthy in pursuit of their own interests, but they are almost always disastrous to the one who borrows them; for if they are defeated, he is ruined; and if they are victorious, he becomes their prisoner.”

  3. mlaw230 says:

    The President has established the legal groundwork for an attack against the Iranians.
    Assuming the diplomatic effort is for real but fails, what would the likely reaction be to such an attack?
    Would Iran simply occupy the oil fields? Attack the supply line? The fleet? All of the above?
    Also, the politicians think that an attack on Iran would, at least initially, be welcomed by Americans, while Steve Clemmons anticipates military resignations as a foreshadowing of any attack, do you think this is likely?
    It seems to me that possibly the only thing more dangerous long term than attacking Iran could be crossing the line where general officers resign in protest of their orders.

  4. dws says:

    The dynamics in the south are different than those in the north or west, but this could make for an interesting pre-view of what Iraq will look like after we leave. Is there an opportunity here for the U.S. to do something “Anbar like”? Is there a deal here for us to make with Sadr or SIIC or Iran? Hard to believe there isn’t.
    An aside: I was astounded at the “Iraq lowers light crude oil price” story. Is it true? Even from the most ardent mindset to promote U.S. self-interest (not necessarily a bad mindset), this isn’t a good idea. I doubt Iraq would do this without prompting. Why would we promote such a thing?

  5. robt willmann says:

    The article in the British Sunday Telegraph newspaper website cited above refers to and quotes Frederick Kagan (remember him?), “one of the architects of the surge [escalation] strategy”.
    Mr. Kagan, without the benefit of going out on patrol and being shot at himself, “condemned British politicians for failing to understand how best to tackle Islamic extremists, and for refusing to increase the size of the Armed Forces so they could pull their full weight in Iraq”.
    It is somewhat depressing to see Mr. Kagan, of the UnAmerican Enterprise Institute (AEI), again getting publicity, after his “Phase I Report” entitled “Choosing Victory, a Plan for Success in Iraq”, put out with retired Gen. Jack Keane and others of the AEI “Iraq Planning Group”.
    I suspect we’re past Phase One and are now, where? Maybe the “Phase II Report” will be the one Gen. Petraeus is to deliver. I wonder who all the contributing authors will be to the report that is to be “by” Gen. Petraeus. The Sunday Telegraph article says that Kagan “just returned from Iraq”. Could it be that he worked as an editor on the upcoming report? Only the Shadow knows.
    Meanwhile, “Mookie” al-Sadr, more cognizant of reality and Iraqi politics than Mr. Kagan,
    grabs the lead paragraph in a story from the British Independent newspaper of today (August 27, 2007).
    It says–
    “Shia militia loyal to the firebrand cleric Muqtada al-Sadr have scuppered an attempt by British forces to hand over the Basra joint police command centre to Iraqi police.”
    “Iraqi police reportedly left when the Shia fighters arrived and began emptying the facility. According to witnesses, they made off with generators, computers, furniture and even cars, saying it was war booty – and were still in the centre yesterday evening.”
    But the British military “disputed the reports”, saying that an Iraqi general denied that the Mehdi Army was there.
    So we have the word of some “witnesses” versus that of an “Iraqi general”.
    But it cannot be denied that activity is picking up in the south of Iraq.

  6. pw says:

    Just a couple of points from a UK perspective to explain why this is happening:
    1. The British Army is on the verge of collapse. It cannot sustain both Iraq and Afghanistan and one has to go to allow the other to continue. And that’s an optimistic view, some hold that even this reduced level of commitment is unsustainable. Operations have been and will continue to be at levels in excess of the Defence Planning Assumptions – yet funding and manning are based on those same assumptions. I could go on but I think you get the point.
    2. The deployment to Iraq is unbelievably unpopular here – the politician who is associated with the withdrawal will probably win an election as a result. Hence the widespread belief that now Labour has ditched the liability that is Tony Blair they will schedule the next election around the troop withdrawals. After all, if they wait too long the relatively forgotten war in Afghanistan may well become equally unpopular.

  7. Cold War Zoomie says:

    I’m surprised the Brits have stayed this long considering the meager public support back home.
    And I’m even more surprised they went to Iraq in the first place considering their experience a mere 80 years prior.

  8. W. Patrick Lang says:

    What were the “defense assumptions” on which the size of this force was based? pl

  9. pw says:

    I’m sure there’s a definitive source, but a brief Google finds a quote from Lord Attlee in Lords Hansard on 25 July 2007:
    “Defence planning assumptions provide for one medium-scale and one small-scale operation, with medium-scale a brigade and small-scale a battalion. We are actually doing two medium-scale plus, and they are both difficult.”

  10. W. Patrick Lang says:

    That is a very small capability. If the forces are scaled to fit that I can see why they are breaking down under the strain.
    Down at my Alma Mater, VMI, there is a magnificent set of toy soldiers in a case. They were donated by an alumnus. They show every unit in the British imperial forces in something like 1910.
    The difference is astonishing. pl

  11. dan says:

    In 1910 the bulk of the Imperial army was made up of Indian, Nigerian, Jamaican, Canadian, South African, Irish, Australian and other assorted nationalities’ troops – I suspect that the actual number of “British” army personnel was not all that different from today – the only major difference being that overseas deployments would last for about 14 years!
    One of the downsides of no longer being an empire is that the colonial “levies” have largely gone – although the army does recruit still in Fiji, Nepal, the Caribbean and South Africa.
    As regards “withdrawal” from Basra – well, the current situation is not exactly a withdrawal, it’s a redeployment from the last outposts in the city proper to the airport. Whether this is prelude to a full-on IDF-style rush to the Kuwaiti border will become clearer in November, when the post Ramadan offensive analysis has been completed.
    I’ve no doubt that the military brass would like to get the hell out of Iraq asap – they’ve been agitating for it for nigh-on 2 years now; they’re also none too keen on the strategic peril that ambiguous US intentions towards Iran entails.
    FWIW, I expect the Atlanticist political calculus that got the UK into this mess in the first place to continue to hold sway for the time being – especially as Gordon should be able to exert some useful leverage over a weakening Bush administration.

  12. W. Patrick Lang says:

    You really don’t want to fight me on history.
    “By August 1914, Britain had 247,432 regular troops. About 120,000 of these were in the British Expeditionary Army and the rest were stationed abroad. There were soldiers in all Britain’s overseas possessions except the white dominions of Australia, New Zealand and Canada.”
    Present Strength (Wiki)
    “Personnel (Regular Army) 107,730
    Personnel (Territorial Army) 38,460”
    You are seriousy incorrect on the numbers and the 1914 numbers quoted above do not include the Yeomanry which was more or less the equivalent of today’s territorial army.
    So, the correct numbers are:
    1914 – 247,432 British Regulars
    Today – 107,730 British Regulars.
    Over and above that there were hosts of “imperial” troops before WW1. pl

  13. pw says:

    Perhaps collapse is the wrong word. I did not mean to infer that individuals would break or give up while in theatre, rather that the system will fail to deliver the men and material required for their relief. We have already committed the reserve (ie the TA) and the impression I get is of an Army looking forward no further than identifying warm bodies for the next tranche. “Stretched but not overstretched” is a phrase used by senior officers to avoid abusing their political masters in public – no-one in uniform that I know believes it for a minute.
    Besides, there is no open ended commitment these days, soldiers get their heads down to get through the six months then bale out when they get back.
    As to UK politics, clearly there are many views.

  14. Yohan says:

    In a city the size of Basra, is there any real difference between a palace guard of 500 and no troops whatsoever? It seems more like a psychological milestone rather than a significant one. It’s not like 500 guys were keeping the Revolutionary Guards at bay while now, all the sudden, those guards now have free reign.
    The power vacuum is more likely to cause conflict between the various Iranian clients(who will stick with Iran only as long as it suits them) rather than ushering in an era of Iranian hegemony.

  15. Clifford Kiracofe says:

    A just released paper from School of Oriental and Africa Studies, London, per US attack/STRATCOM on Iran scenario:
    Older academic study on Iraqi Shia for background:
    Yitzhak Nakash, The Shi’is of Iraq (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1995)

  16. CS says:

    Those naughty Brits! Withdrawing when Victory is Just Around the Corner. But this gives the Americans the chance to apply the magical Anbar Solution. In just a few months, everyone in Basra will love America (and if they don’t they’re obviously Al-Queada or Iranian Proxies and deserve no mercy).

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