Monday, August 28, 2006


Defence Secretary Des Browne is visiting Iraq to discuss security in the country. He's going to be talking...

Hang on. Defence Secretary Des Browne? Are we actually already living inside a satirical future dystopia? Defence Secretary Des Browne? The bottom of the barrel has been scraped so hard, it appears to have a bloody great hole in it. Defence Secretary Des Browne. Dear oh dear.

Anyway, he's going to be talking to Prime Minister Nouri Maliki about the handover of security to Iraqi forces in the south. These handovers are the cornerstone of the British government's exit strategy in Iraq. And a start has already been made:
BBC world affairs correspondent Mike Wooldridge, who is in Baghdad, said Britain handed over formal security control to the Iraqis in one of the most stable of the southern provinces, Muthana, in July.

The same step is expected soon in Dhi Qar province.

"Around a thousand British troops have just withdrawn from their base in another province, Maysan, but they'll continue long-range desert patrolling there particularly to watch for arms smuggling across the Iranian border," he said.
See, it's not so bad? There's definitely progress...

Hang on. Wasn't there something about a base in Maysan province in the news the other day? Ah, yes:
Looters Ransack Base After British Depart
Failure of Iraqi Soldiers to Prevent Assault Raises Worries About Security Transfers

BAGHDAD, Aug. 25 -- Armed looters ransacked an abandoned British base in southern Iraq on Friday as Iraqi soldiers guarding the camp stood by and watched, heightening concerns that Iraqi troops are still ill-equipped to take control of security from U.S.-led coalition forces.

A crowd of as many as 5,000 people, including hundreds armed with AK-47 assault rifles, attacked Camp Abu Naji and hauled away window and door frames, corrugated roofing and metal pipes, despite the presence of a 450-member Iraqi army brigade meant to guard the base.
That doesn't sound so good. What is the military saying?
Maj. Charlie Burbridge, a British military spokesman, said the Iraqi army maintained full control of the camp, even during the looting...
Try not to laugh, this is a serious business. The Major just has an unusual understanding of the meaning of "full control" (unless he means they aided the looters). He went on to say that "our confidence in the Iraqi security forces to maintain day-to-day order in Amarah remains unaffected". A career in politics surely beckons.

Major Burbridge also tried to downplay the political significance of the complete destruction of the base by highlighting the economic factors which might have been at work. But even if this was just down to poor people stealing stuff, shouldn't the Iraqi security forces have been able to stop it happening to a fortified military compound? Isn't that the sort of thing the British army has been training them to do for the last three years? Or has there been some sort of misunderstanding in translation?

Well, it's irrelevant in a sense because the Major isn't being entirely honest about the causes of the looting:
Residents said, however, that antipathy toward the British was strong. After Sadr declared Amarah the first city in Iraq to drive out U.S.-led coalition forces, jubilant residents congratulated one another and planned to take to the streets in celebration.

"We have already stopped our relations with British forces," said Abduljabbar Waheed, head of the provincial council of Maysan. "We always deal with them as occupiers. They have committed many crimes against our people during the last months, they don't care for the people, and they have their own agenda goes against our people's interests."
That doesn't sound like a successful transfer of power. Not unless the plan is to transfer power directly to militias like Sadr's Mahdi Army anyway.

For added context, it's worth pointing out that the night before the base was abandoned transferred to Iraqi control, 17 mortar rounds were fired at it. That report, presumably written on the Thursday of the pull out, looks rather silly with the benefit of hindsight:
The camp - including £292,000 worth of facilities such as catering, accommodation and watchtowers - will be occupied by the local forces.
Yeah, but no, it didn't quite work out like that. Major Burbridge thinks it went OK but people have noticed that the whole thing was a sham. The camp isn't being occupied by local forces because the camp isn't there anymore.

Still, the handover in Muthana last month, it went well. Government heads have been talking that up every since it happe...

Hang on. Wasn't there something in the news about that too? Ah yes:
Army base stripped bare days after handover

The first British camp to be handed to the Iraqis was looted almost bare within days of the Army's departure.

The transfer last month was widely heralded as a signal that Iraq would soon be ready to run itself.

A British soldier said that as the last men drove away, they saw pick-up trucks being filled with equipment worth tens of thousands of pounds.

Most items that could be removed were taken, including air conditioning units, water filtration systems, chairs, bedding and kitchen utensils. When the commander of British forces in south-east Iraq, Brig James Everard, discussed the matter with the province's governor he was told that the camp had "largely gone".

And still Blair seems to genuinely believe Iraq is on the right track. He probably also thinks Vietnamization is that trendy new restaurant in the West End.


The BBC page linked at the top has been re-written. It did say what I said it said earlier, honest it did. Wish they wouldn't do that.

On the plus side, they have gone to the trouble of mentioning the lootings in the updated version:
Last month, about 1,000 British troops were withdrawn from their base in Maysan. The base was looted immediately after it was handed over to Iraqi authorities.
Nearly. It was the one in Muthanna which was looted last month.

Just to be clear, the first base to be "transferred" was Camp Smitty which was near Samawah in Muthanna province. It was "tranferred" on July 30th and was looted "within days". The second base to be "transferred" was Camp Abu Naji which was near Amarah in Maysan province. It was transferred last week, on August 24th, and was looted the next day.

These are two seperate incidents, about one hundred miles apart, one in Mathanna province last month and one in Maysan province last week.

Also in the updated version is the unsurprising news that Des wants the pantomime to continue. The question is, is there actually anything to be gained by prolonging the hardly credible pretense of success in this way? Wouldn't it be better to stop putting our troops lives in danger in pursuit of a fictitious victory?

Have a think about it. The current approach has one advantage for one person. In essence, the British military in Iraq is now essentially an extension of the Downing Street spin machine. Bet that wasn't in the job description when they signed up.

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. said...

It's hard to believe that's he even attempting to suggest that things are improving, it's almost like the day satire died when Henry Kissinger won the Nobel Peace Prize.

Mark said...

Good Morning, Curious; have you seen this?

According to this, an (admittedly limited circulation) American newspaper reckons Britain, its biggest (and pretty much only) ally is also its biggest security threat, because it is a "breeding ground for Muslim extremism"!

To begin, I don't think that's true - but if it were, do you suppose it might be because of your alliance to the most hated country on the planet?

Steve Smith said...

That Telegraph article also goes on to accuse the BBC of being "a preserve of Arabists" so that pretty much shows its bias there. One thing that springs to mind though on reading that is the story about Jack Straws removal being due to the Americans worrying about the number of muslims in his constituency.

CuriousHamster said...

S, it is beyond ridiculous. Unlike Blair, who seems as committed as ever to his messianic vision, Browne gives the impression that he knows he's selling a lie. Can't say that's a big improvement though.

Thanks mark. I hadn't seen that but I've seen similar reports. Perhaps I ought to invest in a bomb shelter. Dubya might decide to help us deal with the problem by bombing the crap out of us.

Here's a clickable version of the article for anyone else who's interested.

Steve, that crossed my mind too. To continue a theme, rather than allowing Muslims to vote, the US government would perhaps prefer it if we round 'em up, put 'em in a field, and bomb the bastards! That's what General Bombthebastards would do anyway.

Sunny said...

Heh, I love this blog