Sunday, October 15, 2006

Analysis: Shiite politicians push for British troops to leave

A British soldier flees a burning tank in Basra

BASRA, Iraq (AP) — Many Shiites in this southern port city say they want British troops to leave, though the region is still bloodied by a persistent grind of killings, including Sunni insurgent bombings and Shiite-on-Shiite slayings amid a competition for political control.

Several prominent Basra leaders on Friday agreed with an assessment by Britain's army chief that the British presence only worsens the violence and the soldiers should withdraw soon. Gen. Richard Dannatt backpedaled Friday from the comments he made in an interview a day earlier, saying he meant troops should leave within years, but the statements caused a political storm in Britain.

In Basra, Shiites insist the British presence only provides a target for attackers seeking to end the "occupation" — and some said the troops are doing nothing to rein in party-backed Shiite militias that have risen to prominence.

"To tell the truth, (the British) have caused the chaos and the security decline in southern Iraq, especially Basra, by their leniency with the militias and their parties," said Ghali Nijm, head of the Shiite Wifaq party in Basra.

Added Aqil Talib, a member of the Basra provincial council from the Shiite Fadila party: "The British presence is no longer desired, as is that of the Americans and others, even though the British are kinder than the Americans."