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Friday, February 03, 2006

I saw parts of Question Time last night, which was not quite the freak show that it normally is, so at least that was a relief. One of the questions about withdrawing British troops from Iraq got me thinking that we don’t really have a proper debate about the issue in this country. It’s not that it doesn’t get debated, it’s just that the conclusion is virtually always the same: the doves say pull ‘em out now, and the tougher doves say pull ‘em out when Iraq’s ready. Though it’s notable that the latter often have difficulty defining when exactly Iraq is “ready”.
Another element in this debate is the idea of a fixed timetable. This is most easily dealt with: if there’s a timetable the criminals, insurgents and jihadists that are already making life in Iraq misery will have a field day. They can then sit back and relax knowing that their most formidable enemy will be gone soon. This interlude can be used to recruit more and more fighters by giving them an opportunity for victory; because let’s face it, without the shield of the Coalition the insurgents are going to make mince meat out of the Iraqi police and security forces. Also, if there’s a timetable all cooperation by the local populace with our troops will cease: after all, no one wants to be on the losing side, particularly when the victors are not exactly renowned for their humane and forgiving nature.
To return to the starting point, my complaint is that we’re not having a proper debate. One gigantic hole in the debate is the view held by hawks like me, namely that we shouldn’t be debating how and when to withdraw, but how and when to send reinforcements to Iraq to get a grip on the situation (rather than Afghanistan). The longer we wait the more entrenched our enemies, the enemies of a functioning Iraqi democracy, will inevitably become. Now, whether or not you agree with this view isn’t my main concern right now, my concern is that this is nowhere in the debate. How often have supporters of the Iraq war or Government ministers been questioned on tv or the radio whether it’s time to withdraw? Compare that to how often they have been asked whether a bad security situation would surely necessitate more troops? I can’t remember that question ever being raised. This is a real problem.
Particularly because our troops aren’t leaving Iraq anytime soon. Certainly not within a decade if not longer. What makes me so sure? Have a brief look at where a large portion of the Army’s bases is located. Notice something? There’s a huge contingent in north West Germany. What on earth are they doing there? Well, British troops first arrived to defeat Nazi Germany. Then they occupied Germany to rebuild it. Following on from that they were stationed there to deter and in extremis help stop the flood of Warsaw Pact tanks sweeping across the north German plains. Then the Cold War ended. That was 16 years ago, but our troops are still there. Why? Partly convenience because it spares the Army from finding new training grounds in the UK.
I see no reason why the deployment to Iraq will be any different. After invading to depose Saddam, the troops are occupying Iraq to rebuild it and will eventually stay on to deter Iran. Additionally British forces have been stationed in the Persian Gulf area now for a good century and with the region’s increasing importance for our security and interests the rationale is only going to increase. Indeed my guess would be that the permanent stationing in Germany might well be exchanged for setting up home in Iraq.
This is the most likely outcome, so there will be no withdrawal of British troops from Iraq.



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