Brits Abandon Last Base in Basra

Redeployment or defeat?

The British army is pulling out of Basra, abandoning the last base they have occupied since the war began:

The UK is preparing to hand over control of Basra to the Iraqi army and in the process it is getting return flak from America’s own armchair generals that it is cutting and running. General Jack Keane, a Pentagon envoy equally ready to shoot from the lip, has said that the pull-out from Basra has “much more to do with conditions in the UK” than those in Iraq.

It is a fair point: after 168 deaths the government is lacking the political and military strength to go on sacrificing soldiers in the Basra meat grinder. Better to fight in Afghanistan, where the mission and the enemy are more clear cut.

Under cover of handing over to the Iraqis, and with the added grace of a six-month Mahdi Army cease-fire, we are preparing to get out. Clearly, deals are being done behind the scenes that do not bear close scrutiny, including the release of notorious members of the Shi’ite militias and the acceptance of Iranian cross-border involvement. Although the operation in southern Iraq has produced heroes, it
This from the Sunday Times who are apparently vegetarians if they believe that 168 fatalities over 4 years constitutes a "meatgrinder."

It hardly matters. The Brits are out, much to the joy of local Iraqi Shias who are claiming "victory over the occupiers." In what is surely a taste of what is in store for America if the Democrats get their way, militia members could be seen celebrating as the troops rolled away.

EU Referendum's take sounds about right:

Any which way the government attempts to spin it, Basra province – the oil resources of which contribute 80 percent of the Iraqi economy – is beyond the reach of the Baghdad government, now the domain of warring tribes and the playground of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard.

Only the British and other coalition troops have stood between them and outright civil war and, with the last remaining 5000 troops hunkered down in Basra Air Station – barely a sufficient number to provide for their own defence, there is nothing to stop the militias taking over.
The militas - Mahdi and Badr Organization being the primary opponents - took over months ago when the British went into a shell and stopped patrolling the streets. But now, as EUR points out, the Iranians will move in to the void and attempt to use their considerable influence and money to bring victory to their proxies in the Mahdi army.

The response of the American government has been muted, realizing full well the political difficulties for new Prime Minister Gordon Brown in keeping any troops in Iraq at all. But it is still a blow to the cause of bringing peace to Iraq that can't be minimized. The writ of Baghdad law does not run in Basra nor in much of southern Iraq now. And bringing those provinces back under the control of the central government will not be easy and will probably not be a bloodless undertaking either.