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July 10, 2005

Pulling out

The British media are on a roll today. From the Mail on Sunday:

Britain and America are secretly preparing to withdraw most of their troops from Iraq - despite warnings of the grave consequences for the region, The Mail on Sunday has learned.
A secret paper written by Defence Secretary John Reid for Tony Blair reveals that many of the 8,500 British troops in Iraq are set to be brought home within three months, with most of the rest returning six months later.
The leaked document, marked Secret: UK Eyes Only, appears to fly in the face of Mr Blair and President Bush’s pledges that Allied forces will not quit until Iraq’s own forces are strong enough to take control of security.

A Reuters story spells out what the U.S. side of a withdrawal would look like:

The memo said Washington planned to cut its forces to 66,000 from about 140,000 by early 2006. “Emerging U.S. plans assume 14 out of 18 provinces could be handed over to Iraqi control by early 2006,” the memo said.
The United States is training Iraqi forces to take over the country’s defence in the face of an insurgency involving allies of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and foreign militants allied to al Qaeda operative Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

Would that work? I’m with Juan Cole:

The remaining 66,000 US troops would presumably be responsible for the most turbulent, largely Sunni Arab provinces, such as Baghdad, Anbar, and Salahuddin.
[But] I remain unconvinced that the new Iraqi army will actually be able to take up the slack, even if the Australians help out.
What in the world, then is actually going on? In practice, I think the withdrawal plan implies a willingness to turn the five northern provinces over to the Kurdish Peshmerga paramilitary, and the 9 southern provinces over to a combination of Shiite militias and new Iraqi government security forces (Interior Ministry gendarmes and regular army). And, I think this obviously desperate plan really risks damaging the integrity of Iraq as a nation-state. But, it is unlikely that for the US to remain at its present force levels would help maintain that integrity, anyway.

The timing of the leaked memo is embarrassing for both Bush and Blair, but particularly for the British government given its stiff-upper-lip response to the London bombings:

The British Government’s public position is that UK troops will stay until newly trained Iraqi forces are ready to take control of security. Less than a fortnight ago, Mr Blair said it was “vital” the US-led coalition stayed until Iraq stabilised, and Mr Bush endorsed his comments.
Mr Reid’s memo, prepared for Mr Blair in the past few weeks, shows that in reality, plans to get them out - “military drawdown,” as he puts it - are well advanced.
It says: “We have a commitment to hand over to Iraqi control in Al Muthanna and Maysan provinces [two of the four provinces under British control in Southern Iraq] in October 2005 and in the other two, Dhi Qar and Basra, in April 2006.
“This in turn should lead to a reduction in the total level of UK commitment in Iraq to around 3,000 personnel by mid 2006.

If British troops pull out, other members of the alliance will follow. The U.K. memo says that international forces in Southern Iraq currently under British control will have to be handled carefully if Britain withdraws. What that means, in effect, is that if the Brits quit, the Australians and Japanese won’t be far behind. The Italians are already preparing to pull out, after being named along with Denmark in the Al Qaeda statement that was posted on the Internet after Thursday’s bombings.

All of which means it won’t be long before Iraq is America’s very own quagmire—ours, all ours. With even fewer troops to fend off the, uh, “crumbling” insurgency (at least 48 dead today alone).

Posted by Stephen at 5:25 PM in War | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

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