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Wednesday, April 28, 2004

BRITISH MILITARY'S IRAQ FEARS Via Normblog and a little late, this news is highly troubling:

Troops who could once travel around Iraq in soft headgear now wear body armour and helmets if they venture out, and they travel everywhere with gunners standing in the back of their vehicles scouring the countryside for potential attackers.
. . .
But the Americans have insisted repeatedly that Sadr will be arrested on a warrant issued last year for the murder of the moderate Shia cleric Majid al Khoie and other offences, including stealing money collected from mosques, and many British officers fear that would have catastrophic consequences in the Shia strongholds in the south. Reluctant to talk publicly, they say privately that they would be unable to maintain security in the face of a Shia uprising.
"I know if that happened I would not be able to dominate the ground here any longer," one said. "We would be able to hold our positions, but we would be taking significant casualties."

This shows up another mistake in the handling of the post-invasion campaign. It would have been better that instead of cutting the Shia part of Iraq into different blocks of responsibility that entire part of the country had been placed under overall British command with supporting forces from other coalition members as there are now, though some of them have started running away (thanks for nothing). This way UK commanders would have been able to control all of the populace that matters to our forces' security. That way it there would have been greater coherence of policy and thus a greater chance of success. Now we are in a situation in which our troops effectively have to hope that their US colleagues manage to deal effectively with the problems, without Britain seeming to have any real influence over the tactics.
This raises a more general note. I have been and remain a staunch supporter of regime change in Iraq and I remain sure that it was right and necessary for Britain to go along with the US on the issue. However that does not mean we shouldn't attach conditions to our support. The primary condition is of course that of influence. Now, many detractors (too numerous to link to) will say that we got nothing out of it and we were effectively led up the garden path. (Un)fortunately this is not the case at all as Anne Applebaum recounts. Tony Blair's conditions for British support were all met, most prominently going through the UN and an Arab-Israeli peace plan. To be fair to Our Tony I suppose it wasn't always apparent that the UN route would fail, even if many others and myself proclaimed at the time:

Preferably this should be done via the United Nations, which, if unlike in the past, is actually made to work, may well draw a sceptical America into accepting such a multi-lateral framework.
The problem with this vision is its practicality. In the end the question whether or not this can work now depends on whether the UN Security Council confirms its authorisation to use force against Saddam, and whether its members are then prepared to see it through. Because the US and the other member countries are largely either indifferent or open to persuasion, in effect, this means that France will have to endorse this vision. I wish our Prime Minister the best of luck, but I would guess he will fail on this count. France's core foreign policy objective of the past decade is to obstruct and paralyse American power for reasons both noble and ignoble. If Tony Blair can change France's world view within the next few weeks that will be great, but it is far more likely that the real result will be that the diplomacy will drag on for ages as Saddam plays his traditional game of dividing the international community by giving worthless concessions, be inconclusive and in the end will run out of time, when both the Iraqi weather and the Pentagon hawks' tempers heat up to intolerable levels. If that happens a huge and ugly diplomatic mess will ensue, which is easy to avoid by simply referring to the existing UN resolutions, rallying the council members to accept that as a basis for action and then launching the war within the next few weeks.

But in regards to the Middle East road map (or "road trap", or preferably "road crap"), I find it hard to have any kind of sympathy for the PM's policy. The conflict is primarily a problem for Israel and the Palestinians and I tend to agree with Ted Galen Carpenter's argument that outside intervention will be futile and in fact entrench it. Blair should instead have used our "influence credit" in the White House to ensure a bigger British say in the on the ground tactics, or if necessary a greater area of control. Given that for most of the time our troops' tactics have been more successful than those of their American colleagues, this would have been beneficial for all involved. But no, Blair has to follow the pressure of his own party's ideological preferences and waste time and political capital on the Palestinian issue. (A conflict that only looms so large because of the completely excessive media coverage. via Mick Hartley) Quite a failure, I say. This is where I really have to part with Blair and why I don't share the amount of praise he has earned himself in many parts of the right.

And for more dire facts, back to the Scotsman article:

British forces are taking significant casualties. According to the Ministry of Defence, between 7 February last year and 31 March this year, 2,228 injured military personnel were evacuated out of the theatre of operations, a figure equivalent to two of the battle groups involved in the capture of Basra last April.
Of those, 1,885 were from the army, 226 from the RAF, 67 from the marines and 50 from the navy. The casualties also included non-combat injuries such as road accidents, but the figures do not cover injuries which were treated by unit medics, or soldiers who were able to return to action.
Since George Bush declared that major combat operations were over, 26 British soldiers have died: 12 in action, ten from accidents and four from illness or natural causes. Up to 1 May last year, 17 died in accidents, seven were killed by friendly fire, six died as a result of enemy action, two were killed by what the MoD describes as "explosive incidents" and one died of natural causes.
In comparison, the US has lost 706 soldiers, with 2,374 injured in action and evacuated and another 1,256 returning to action after being wounded.

This is the current situation. If the Iraqi population turned hostile we would probably looking at a situation akin to the one Israel faces in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. If you want to put all this figures into perspective, the RoomUnsealeress writes that in the past year alone 184 Israeli soldiers were killed in action, which in comparative population figures would mean about 1800 British or 11700 American troops killed. In light of this I would say we're still being fairly lucky. But we can't rely on luck alone, our governments need to find ways in which the whole process in Iraq can be speeded up. The process itself is right and is going in the right direction, but as long as it remains so slow our problems in Iraq will remain.

You can count this as my wobble over Iraq, which was probably unavoidable. I’ll be back to my hawkish self soon; I’m just lacking sleep and good food . . .

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