Another senior British officer tells the truth on Iraq

After Rose and Dannatt, etc, more candour from the top brass.

So much for “conditions on the ground” determining the UK’s exit strategy…

The split between the UK and the US over Iraq was further inflamed last night after a senior British officer claimed troops could have withdrawn from Basra Palace five months ago if America had not issued a plea for them to stay.

The Army’s commander in Iraq said American pressure caused them to stay in the exposed outpost, after which 11 soldiers were killed and 62 wounded in months of intense fighting.

British forces were finally pulled out of the palace and back to Basra airport a week ago.

But Brigadier James Bashall, the commander of 1 Mechanised Brigade, told The Daily Telegraph that the force could have come out of Basra Palace in April “but politics prevented that”.

The senior officer’s comments come during a trans-Atlantic spat in which American officials have accused Britain of accepting defeat in southern Iraq and watching Basra descend into “all-out gangland warfare”. Brig Bashall said Washington’s request for British forces to stay in Basra came after a security operation codenamed Operation Sinbad had brought relative calm to the city.

”In April we could have come out and done the transition completely and that would have been the right thing to do but politics prevented that,” he said. “The Americans asked us to stay for longer.”

The decision to remain in Basra was a consequence of “political strategy being played out at highest level”.

This was brought to my attention by Neil Clark.

The motive for holding back the British in southern Iraq was the “surge” by US forces – a signal the American government was ignoring the message sent by votes in the mid-term elections – and the transition of power in the UK from Blair to Brown. If the Brits had been leaving Basra Palace just as Blair was about to go, it would have weakened the Bush administration’s “stay the course” position. And oddly enough, it would’ve added to the Brown bounce – in entirely the wrong way, from his perspective, as there would then have been greater public expectation that New Labour had left the building with Blair.

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