BASRA….From the Guardian:

Plans to withdraw substantial numbers of British troops from Iraq next month have been abandoned after the explosion of violence in Basra on Monday night. The decision has dismayed military commanders, who are concerned about growing pressure on their soldiers.

….Senior defence officials admitted yesterday that far from improving, the security situation in southern Iraq might well get worse over the next few months. They referred in particular to the Mahdi army, a militia headed by the radical Shia cleric, Moqtada al-Sadr.

….In July, the then commander of British forces in southern Iraq, Major General Jonathan Riley, predicted that Britain would hand over “two provinces, Maysan and al-Muthanna, this year and [the] other two [Dhi Qar and Basra] next year.”

That hope was reflected in a secret memo sent by John Reid, the defence secretary, in July to cabinet colleagues. However, this is now regarded by military commanders and diplomats as hopelessly optimistic.

Hopelessly optimistic indeed.

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