Last year, two polar opposite strategies were tried in Iraq.
- President Bush changed commanders, changed to a counter-insurgency strategy, and sent an additional 30,000 troops to quell violence in Iraq that had been set ablaze by Al Queda. This change in course reduced violence dramatically, and while the not all of the political objectives have been met yet, most have been, and the outlook for further national reconciliation grows more positive with each passing day.
- On the other hand, the British forces in the south of Iraq chose to start withdrawing troops. The British people were tired of the war (as is everyone), and there was much political clout to be had by marketing a ‘leave and things will be better’ theory. Well, troop levels dropped, and violence increased. Shortly after Britain announced plans to withdraw the rest of its troops, Muqtada al Sadr ended his cease-fire and sectarian fighting erupted (though a far cry from what it was in 2006).
In the areas where the US forces had increased and changed strategies, the violence is minimal.
In the areas where British forces pulled out and drew down force levels…violence is almost uncontrollable.
This shows beyond any doubt that a strategy that is based on timelines for withdrawal (as the British tried) fails. It reinforces the historical pattern that withdrawals set off violence (see also withdrawal of US force levels in 2003 after the invasion, 2004 before the US election, in 2005 after the Iraqi elections, and now the British premature evacuation.
The point isn’t that more troops are needed, or that an indefinite occupation is needed, but rather that troop levels MUST be determined by conditions on the ground, and not by political conditions at home. The entire strategy of an insurgent is to degrade the enemy’s will to fight-not the will of their frontline forces, but that of their supporting populations. It works. Now, people are dying (again) because force levels were changed by politicians marketing pipedreams of faux peace rather than explaining the historical pattern that is reality.
Just pullout and everything will be better is a plan that doesn’t work. Today, many people will die in Basra, Iraq to prove that. Will those calling for immediate, unconditional withdrawal take notice? Will anyone who advocates withdrawal instead of pursuit of success think about what strategies work?
Iraqi militia success means Britain must fight – or admit failure
Richard Beeston, Foreign Editor
British forces, who can probably cobble together an armoured battle group of a few hundred soldiers, may well be asked to intervene should the Iraqi offensive fail. If that happens, any hope of the withdrawal promised by Gordon Brown last year of another 1,500 British troops this spring will have to be shelved until Basra can be stabilised.
It may even be necessary to reinforce the British contingent with more combat troops, something that the Ministry of Defence can ill afford as it prepares for the fighting season in Afghanistan.
The only other option would be for Britain to admit finally that it has lost the fight in southern Iraq. That would mean an ignominious withdrawal and handing over control of Basra to the Americans, who grudgingly would have to take over responsibility for the south. As American officers and officials have privately made clear, much of today’s problems in Basra can be traced back to Britain’s failure to commit the forces necessary to control Basra and southern Iraq in general.
Whereas President Bush’s “surge” tactic of sending 30,000 reinforcements to central Iraq has succeeded in bringing down the level of violence in Baghdad and Anbar province, the Americans believe that the gradual withdrawal of British troops from the south has had the opposite effect, a point that Mr al-Maliki and his soldiers are discovering to their cost on the streets of Basra today.