Basra, Gaza Redux?
The British are leaving Basra. They are not leaving because their mission has been accomplished. They are leaving because PM Gordon Brown believes it is politically beneficial. The people of Basra, like the people of Gaza on the eve of the Israeli disengagement, are apprehensive. They know what is coming. The weak will pay the highest price and in the Muslim world that means women, liberals and religious minorities. The mainstream media buys into the show of public support Hamas orchestrated for the first anniversary of it take over but the hunted women of Gaza, users of Internet cafes and Christians know better.
As always when the last helicopter leaves, the local population pays the price and the armed vigilantes benefit. The British know it even if they chose not to care. As the Telegraph admits, Ready or not, the UK is leaving.
The result? I felt a new terror on Basra's streets writes the Sunday Times Marie Colvin, the first unembedded western journalist from a British newspaper to visit Basra for nearly two years.
The British got the easiest Iraqi section and opted for a hands off approach which they judged superior and more culturally sensitive than the American "heavy handedness." The British kept in their barracks when they did not play soccer with the Iraqi children. They let the Iraqis sort it out. As the Iranian did not follow the British policy, their Sadr gang surrogates took control. 48 women were murdered recently mainly for failing to obey Islamist regulations.
Residents say police have not been investigating. “Everyone knows the militias are doing this, but the police live in fear of them. We all do,” said a middle-aged businessman who was too afraid to give his name.
The walls of Basra would be a good place to start looking for the killers. One graffito on a wall bordering the main Al-Dijari road reads: “We warn all women of Basra, especially those who are not wearing abbaya [a long, loose black cloak worn over everyday clothes], that we will kill you.” It is signed in the name of an offshoot of the Mahdi Army, the strongest militia in Basra.
It is not just women who live in fear. Professionals such as engineers, doctors and scientists have been dragged from their homes and murdered.
The people of Basra know worse is coming. But those who opposed the war do not worry about them. They are much too busy celebrating what they insist on describing as a British defeat instead of a unilateral disengagement. The Daily Mail editors urge the country to learn the Harsh lessons of the retreat from Basra:
It is the fault of politicians, both British and American, who were obsessed with the removal of Saddam Hussein but had no coherent post-invasion plan.
Disbanding almost the entire army, police force and civil service because its members had belonged to Saddam's ruling Ba'ath party sowed the seeds of catastrophe.
It is right that we leave Basra - and the sooner the remaining 4,500 troops are evacuated, the better - but let us not regard withdrawal as anything other than a forced retreat.
Our achievements in Iraq have been scant, our failings many and the human cost grotesquely high on all sides.
If so, shouldn't Britain follow the American example and seek to rectify its mistakes? Isn't leaving Iraqis to reap the bitter harvest a cowardly way out? The British government is even failing to evacuate the most vulnerable of Iraqis, its own interpreters. The Mail editor go on to advise:
The Prime Minister must now turn his attentions to Afghanistan and ensure that we have a clearly defined mission there - not another muddled, open-ended bloodbath.
Can anybody think of a more absurd recommendation?! If you were an Afghani, would you trust British steadfastness?! After all, even their American best friends should not trust it for when the going gets tough, the British leave.
I cannot but recall a January 1968 document. The British notified the US that they had decided to accelerate their disengagement East of Suez. Dean Rusk bemoaned: "The United States is facing a difficult period in world affairs and Britain was saying it would not be there."
As the French say, plus ca change. More pertinently, Israel has been paying a high price for the disengagement and I doubt Western democracies can avoid the same fate.