Do the British Want Out of Iraq

DO THE BRITISH WANT OUT OF IRAQ?….The Guardian reports today that a pitched battle is being waged by British forces against a dogged band of insurgents. These particular insurgents, though, reside not in Basra but in northwest London, and they argue that British troops could be better used in Afghanistan than in an increasingly hopeless holding action in Iraq:

They believe there is a limit to what British soldiers can achieve in southern Iraq and that it is time the Iraqis took responsibility for their own security, defence sources say….”What is more important, Afghanistan or Iraq?” a senior defence source asked yesterday. “There is a group within the Ministry of Defence pushing hard to get troops out of Iraq to get more into Afghanistan.”

….The fierce debate at the highest military and political levels in the MoD is reflected in a passage of a leaked memo written by a staff officer at the Defence Academy, an MoD thinktank. It reads: “British armed forces are effectively held hostage in Iraq ? following the failure of the deal being attempted by COS [chief of staff] to extricate UK armed forces from Iraq on the basis of ‘doing Afghanistan’ ? and we are now fighting (and arguably losing or potentially losing) on two fronts.”

The reference to the “failure of the deal” suggests that this was a pretty serious effort, and one that was not appreciated by U.S. commanders, who were said to be “deeply unhappy about British talk of troop reductions and complained that the British seemed interested only in the south of the country.”

The fact that basic strategy is being debated at high levels isn’t unusual. What is unusual is that this particular debate suggests that the highest ranking officer in the British Army believes three things: (1) Afghanistan is in serious trouble and needs more troops ASAP, (2) there’s very little more that can be accomplished by the military in Iraq, and (3) British troop deployments are essentially being dictated by political considerations in the United States.

There’s not much more to say about this except for one thing: the British Army got a new chief about four weeks ago, General Richard Dannatt. Was the attempted “deal” to transfer troops from Iraq to Afghanistan something that his predecessor initiated or something that he initiated? Is the British Army going to be commanded for the next three years by someone who apparently thinks the cause in Iraq is lost?