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The British Betrayal in Basra

John on August 5, 2008 at 9:52 am

I don’t know what else to call it:

A secret deal between Britain and the notorious al-Mahdi militia prevented British Forces from coming to the aid of their US and Iraqi allies for nearly a week during the battle for Basra this year, The Times has learnt.

Four thousand British troops – including elements of the SAS and an entire mechanised brigade – watched from the sidelines for six days because of an “accommodation” with the Iranian-backed group, according to American and Iraqi officers who took part in the assault.

US Marines and soldiers had to be rushed in to fill the void, fighting bitter street battles and facing mortar fire, rockets and roadside bombs with their Iraqi counterparts.

Hundreds of militiamen were killed or arrested in the fighting. About 60 Iraqis were killed or injured. One US Marine died and sevenwere wounded.

US advisers who accompanied the Iraqi forces into the fight were shocked to learn of the accommodation made last summer by British Intelligence and elements of al-Mahdi Army, the militia loyal to Moqtada al-Sadr, the radical Shia Muslim cleric.

The deal, which aimed to encourage the Shia movement back into the political process and marginalise extremist factions, has dealt a huge blow to Britain’s reputation in Iraq.

Under its terms, no British soldier could enter Basra without the permission of Des Browne, the Defence Secretary. By the time he gave his approval, most of the fighting was over and the damage to Britain’s reputation had already been done.

Senior British defence sources told The Times that Nouri al-Maliki, the Iraqi Prime Minister, who ordered the assault, and high-ranking US military officers had become disillusioned with the British as a result of their failure to act. Another confirmed that the deal, negotiated by British Intelligence, had been a costly mistake.

[...]

Lieutenant-Colonel Chuck Western, a senior US Marine advising the Iraqi Army, told The Times: “I was not happy. Everybody just assumed that because this deal was cut nobody was going in. Cutting a deal with the bad guys is generally not a good idea.”

He emphasised, however, that he was not being critical of the British military, which he described as first-rate.

Captain Eric Whyne, another US Marine officer who took part in the battle, said that he was astounded that “a coalition force would make a pact with essentially their enemy and promise not to go into their area so as not to get attacked”. He alleged that “some horrific atrocities” were committed by the militia in Basra during the British watch.

A senior British defence source agreed that the battle for Basra had been damaging to Britain’s reputation in Iraq. “Maliki, and the Americans, felt the British were morally impugned by the deal they had reached with the militia. The British were accused of trying to find the line of least resistance in dealing with the Shia militia,” said the source.

“You can accuse the Americans of many things, such as hamfistedness, but you can’t accuse them of not addressing a situation when it arises. While we had a strategy of evasion, the Americans just went in and addressed the problem.”

Another British official said that the deal was intended as an IRA-style reconciliation. “That is what we were trying to do but it did not work.” The official added that “accommodation” had become a dirty word.

I find this pretty shocking. Making a deal with an Iranian backed militia in the middle of a war in which Iranian backed elements are responsible for significant attacks on US soldiers, in particular the most deadly roadside bombs (EFPs). It’s the sort of thing one might expect from the UN, not from Britain.

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Category: Foreign Affairs |

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