Our Loyal Allies, the British

Betrayal in diplomacy among allies is rare but happens on occasion. But betrayal on the battlefield? And by our closest ally?

This is from the Times Online:

A secret deal between Britain and the notorious al-Mahdi militia prevented British Forces from coming to the aid of their US and Iraqi allies for nearly a week during the battle for Basra this year, The Times has learnt.

Four thousand British troops - including elements of the SAS and an entire mechanised brigade - watched from the sidelines for six days because of an "accommodation" with the Iranian-backed group, according to American and Iraqi officers who took part in the assault.

US Marines and soldiers had to be rushed in to fill the void, fighting bitter street battles and facing mortar fire, rockets and roadside bombs with their Iraqi counterparts.

Hundreds of militiamen were killed or arrested in the fighting. About 60 Iraqis were killed or injured. One US Marine died and sevenwere wounded.

Needless to say, our boys who went in with the Iraqi Army to take on Moqtada al-Sadr's militia were surprised and bitterly disappointed to hear of this. Evidently, the Brits thought that if they held back that Mookie would return to the political process and slough off extremists in his group.

This is at a time when Petreaus and Prime Minister Maliki wanted to confront al-Sadr's group and destroy it thus marginalizing any political power Mookie might retain. The deal was a direct contravention of our Iraq policy - and the Brits are evidently suffering for it in Iraq.

Get a load of what one Iraqi commander says of the Brits performance:

Colonel Imad, who heads the 2nd Battalion, 1st Brigade, 1st Iraqi Army Division, the most experienced division, commanded one of the quick-reaction battalions summoned to assist British-trained local forces, who faltered from the outset because of inexperience and lack of support.

He said: "Without the support of the Americans we would not have accomplished the mission because the British Forces had done nothing there.

"I do not trust the British Forces. They did not want to lose any soldiers for the mission."
This is not a recent development in the way the British performed in Iraq. Responsible for security in the southern part of the country (considered relatively peaceful because of the overwhelming proportion of Shias living there) the Brits got caught up in factional fighting between the Mahdi Army and the more numerous Badr Brigades. Both outfits turned on the Brits relatively quickly and began taking potshots at their patrols - among other things.

After losing several men, Prime Minister Blair at first ordered nightime patrols. When that proved equally dangerous, he simply ordered the Brits back to their barracks where they hunkered down for the most part and allowed Basra and other hot spots in the south to become lousy with militias. They took over the police, the courts, and most municiple functions while outlawing booze, music, and anything else that didn't comport with Sharia law.

Now, in the defense of the British, what happened was not their fault and could have been dealt with if they had more troops. But any reinforcements were out of the question considering the political situation back home that Blair was facing. The Americans could hardly send anything to help out (this was before the surge) and the Iraqi Army was hardly ready to take on that kind of responsibility without massive assistance.

This then is the backdrop when al-Maliki decided to go in to Basra and clean out the militias. The British, playing what they thought was the only hand dealt them, decided discretion was the better part of valor and tried to make a deal with al-Sadr. In the end, thanks to US assistance and some excellent work by some units of the Iraqi Army, Maliki's goals were achieved - without British assistance.

I don't think this really hurt our guys all that much. We had given up on the British months previously when it was announced they were leaving. But the thought of the British dealing with a battlefield enemy and not telling us will no doubt sour our military even further on British efforts in Iraq.