On the 16th December 2007, Britain finally handed over operational control over Basra to the Iraqi government, 57 months after the initial invasion.
A lot has been said and written about the war in Iraq and we, like many others, have said plenty. Needless to say the war in Iraq has been a disaster and no amount of media spin can alter that judgement. Tens of thousands have died in the post war carnage which itself was based around a tissue of lies, deceit and concoction. Iraq 2003-2007 has not just been the greatest disaster in American and British foreign policy in the last fifty years but has exposed a chamber of horrors. Whether it was the X-rated performances by US marines on the night shift at Abu Ghraib, or the beatings carried out by British soldiers in Basra, the US and UK long ago lost their moral authority in Iraq.
Despite the huge significance made of the British handover of Basra to the Iraqis, this means neither the end of British’s occupation, nor Britain’s colonial desire to maintain its pivotal position at the heart of the Middle East. Britain will have 4,500 troops remaining in Iraq, reduced to 2,500 troops in the spring of 2008, purportedly to train the new Iraqi army and to act as a backstop in case of need. Two key issues emerge from the handover plan, one surrounding the principle of the UK keeping a residual presence in Iraq and the second around what this means for Afghanistan.
With respect to the residual force in Iraq, as many have commented, the force is too small to achieve anything significant, yet the MOD continues to argue that it will play a crucial role in training and an overwatch capacity. However, there is no justification for continued presence of British forces in Iraq, they have not only contributed with their American allies to destroying the country and allowing Basra to become a cesspit of banditry and insecurity, but their colonial past gives no one any confidence that their role going forward is anything but benign.
The people of Basra clearly articulated what they think of the British presence over the last 57 months in a recent Opinion Research Business poll carried out for BBC’s Newsnight. In that poll 86% of the residents of Basra believe British troops have had a negative effect on the Iraqi province and two thirds think security will actually improve when the British hand back control, 83% of those surveyed wanted British troops to leave Iraq including 63% who wanted them to leave the Middle East altogether. Even retired British officers have been forced to admit the poor results in the hearts and minds strategy. Col Bob Stewart, former British commander of UN forces in Bosnia, told BBC News 24 that "If you were to actually grade it, one to 10, from the point of view of someone who lives in Basra… probably we would score it about three." Some may dispute even a three out of ten performance, but no one can dispute that such a debacle justifies a complete withdrawal.
Secondly, the news of troop withdrawals in Iraq will almost certainly be mirrored by increases in Afghanistan. Prime Minister Brown’s speech to the House of Commons on 12th December clearly illustrates a renewed focus on Afghanistan, a country that Britain has had extensive historical colonial experience with. The British strategy of additional troops, economic redevelopment and seeking to divide the Taliban are not new and they have failed in the past. Indeed, the attempts to split the Taliban have been repeatedly tried by the Americans especially under the watch of former US Ambassador to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad, who sought to use his Pashtun ethnicity to peel off pragmatic members of the Taliban after the 2001 invasion. The recent taking of Musa Qala should also be understood in its proper context, rather than as evidence of a great NATO victory. Towns have been frequently given up by the Taliban only for them to be recaptured again, as the intent of asymmetric warfare is not to capture land but to test stamina and buy time. For those opposing NATO and the US occupation of Afghanistan, the trends are all positive. NATO despite what is said publicly is in disarray, they don’t have enough troops and those that are there, do not have sufficient equipment. Moving a couple of thousand more British troops to Afghanistan from Iraq is not intended to defeat the Taliban but to consolidate Britain’s influence in a strategic part of the world that borders Pakistan and Central Asia.
The real issue is that Britain with America can largely continue its age old interference unabated in the Muslim world regardless of the year, decade or century. Indeed, leaders in countries like Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, Jordan and Pakistan provide critical logistical support to these countries to continue their interference and occupation of other Muslim lands. Only the re-emergence of a counterweight in the form of the Islamic Khilafah (Caliphate) can effectively counter such occupation and interference in the future, and provide the much needed stability in the region.
Political advisor to UK Executive Committee
Hizb ut-Tahrir Britain
16th December 2007/
8 Dhul Hijjah 1428