Tuesday, July 05, 2005


Update on "Brits and Americans divided over Iraq pullout..."

Important breaking news on the British pullout from Iraq. The British government, apparently dissatisfied with the lack of reaction to the series of disclosures on the pullout in the Scotsman (except for Simply Appalling there was none), has bumped it up a notch. Jimmy Burns and Peter Spiegel of the Financial Times report,

The Ministry of Defence has drafted plans for a significant withdrawal of British troops from Iraq over the next 18 months and a big deployment to Afghanistan, the Financial Times has learnt.

It's not clear whether the Financial Times (FT) learned this directly from the government or from an interview with Ministry of Defense Secretary John Reid on the BBC's "Radio 4 Today" to which reporters Jimmy Burns and Peter Spiegel refer.

Now that the FT is carrying the story, it has been picked up by, of all places, Science Daily, a number of newspapers in the East and Far East and the UPI. Adoption of the story by UPI, now a Moonie-owned newswire, has resulted in an abridged and somewhat neutralized story in the Washington Times, which appears to be first indication of it in the American press. No word yet whether the MSM have even heard of a British pullout, but if so, they're keeping it a secret.

The Financial Times disclosures carry the story forward in several respects. They also indicate the delicate balancing act the British government is engaged in—slowly ratcheting up notice of its resolve to withdraw on the one hand (which will be warmly received by the British public) while not provoking an American hissy fit on the other.

I say "ratcheting up" advisedly. Discussion by the Secretary of Defense on BBC radio raises the issue to a higher level than the words of a military advisor in Kabul and places it just one step away from Prime Minister Tony Blair. It also sets forth a more definite timeline and makes clear that the withdrawal is likely to begin sooner rather than later.

In what would represent the biggest operational shake-up involving the armed forces since the Iraq war, the first stage of a run-down in military operations is likely to take place this autumn with a handover of security to Iraqis in at least two southern provinces.

Emphasis on the "southern provinces"—the relatively quiet Shia areas where British troops have been stationed—is also a further step in the explanation of why the British are withdrawing.

... senior UK officers believe the four south-east provinces under UK command, which are largely Shia and have not seen the same violence as more Sunni-dominated areas north of Baghdad, may be ready for a handover earlier than those under US command.

Vis-à-vis the Americans this is very clever, diplomatically speaking. By arguing that it is the progress that has been made in Iraq that now permits the British to withdraw, the Americans are put somewhat in a bind. To argue publicly that the British must stay is to deny that progress has been made—not something that shadow-President Dick "In their last throes" Cheney is eager to do.

Mr Reid went on: "So although Donald Rumsfeld may have said, correctly, that this may take years before it is finally completed, that did not imply that all that period will have to be led by the multi-national forces or the British forces.

"I personally think that within a year we could begin that transition to the Iraqi forces leading the effort themselves."

Previous posts
What's up in Britain? (9/23/04)
What's up in Afghanistan and why is Blair sending more troops? (4/5/05)
The secret that's not a secret: British troops to Afghanistan (5/23/05)
A further note on the Brits and Afghanistan (6/2/05)
What does this man know about the British? (6/28/05)
Brits and Americans divided over Iraq pullout as Afghanistan slides toward civil war (6/29/05)

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