Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Petraeus meets with Brown, warns of 'devastating consequences' if British withdraw

Above: The end of a British 'repatriation' ceremony for a fallen comrade at Basra airport. The airport houses is the last remaining British base in Iraq.

Iraq: Petraeus Warns Of 'Devastating Consequences' Of Early British Pullout

The two top U.S. officials in Iraq -- General David Petraeus and U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker -- have urged Britain not to hastily withdraw its remaining forces from Iraq, warning of potentially "devastating consequences."

Petraeus, the commander of coalition forces in Iraq, said Britain should keep its forces in Iraq long enough to ensure that Iraqis can defend themselves. Otherwise, he said, they'd undo what he called the "magnificent" work they've done.

Two weeks ago, Britain finished withdrawing its 5,500 forces from Basra to a nearby airport, and handed over security in the southern city to Iraqi troops. About 500 of these troops are due to be sent home shortly.

Petraeus and Crocker spent last week in Washington testifying before the U.S. Congress in an effort to build support for his strategy of using a so-called "surge" of 30,000 additional U.S. troops to stabilize Iraq.

Brown To Address Parliament

On September 18, on their way back to Baghdad, they stopped in London for meetings with senior British officials, including Prime Minister Gordon Brown and General Richard Dannat, Britain's military chief of staff.

Brown is scheduled to address parliament about his Iraq strategy on October 8. He is under great pressure to announce a timetable for the withdrawal of all his country's troops. One member of parliament, Liberal Party leader Menzies Campbell, said Britain already has met what he called its "moral obligation" to Iraq.

As they did in Washington, Petraeus and Crocker acknowledged in London that the Iraqi government has yet to make meaningful progress on legislation and other acts to promote reconciliation among the country's rival groups. But they said the progress in providing security in Iraq has been tangible and has been made not only by U.S. forces, but also by their allies.

"The progress, though, is a result of many factors," Petraeus said. "Coalition and Iraqi forces have dealt significant blows to Al-Qaeda in Iraq and have disrupted Shi'a militia extremists. We and our Iraqi partners are being assisted by tribes and local citizens, in a very important development, who are rejecting extremism and choosing to help Iraq's security."

'Devastating Consequences'

Petraeus said there would be what he called "devastating consequences" if Britain were to remove its remaining 5,000 forces prematurely. They reportedly planned to tell Brown and Dannat that abandoning the Basra area would leave U.S. forces and a key north-south supply route susceptible to attack.

For his part, Crocker acknowledged that the situation in Iraq is difficult and has been so throughout the 4 1/2 years since the war began. But he called for patience, and, like Petraeus, said a hasty withdrawal would ultimately mean disaster.

"What I am certain of is that should we decide that we are tired of this, we want a dramatic policy change, we just don't want to be engaged any more at the intensity we currently are, then I am certain there will be failure," he said. "And we need to consider, very carefully, what the consequences of failure in Iraq could be for the people of Iraq, for the region, and for the international community."

The remaining 5,000 British troops stationed outside Basra are charged with supervising the Iraqi forces in the city. Last month, Brown, like U.S. President George W. Bush, said he wouldn't accept a timetable for their withdrawal. But even Britain's military commanders are recommending a smaller presence in Iraq because their country's armed forces, like those of the United States, are under great strain from operations there and in Afghanistan.

From RFE

Schedule for UK pull-back from Iraq takes shape

Prime Minister Gordon Brown held talks with General David Petraeus, the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, on Tuesday and is due to make a statement on Iraq to parliament early next month when his strategy is likely to be further fleshed out. With no serious increase in violence in Basra since Britain pulled 500 soldiers out of the city centre two weeks ago -- moving them to the airport on the city outskirts -- a 10 percent drawdown of troops will happen in the next six weeks...

The focus will then be on transferring responsibility for the province that includes Basra to Iraqi authorities by the end of the year, which would complete the handover of power in all four provinces for which Britain was once responsible.

Once the handover is complete, Britain's remaining 5,000 troops would be on "overwatch", meaning they would mostly be responsible for training Iraqi forces and would "go offensive" only if there was a serious breakdown in security. They would also continue to protect supply routes in southern Iraq.

Read the rest at Reuters/Alternet

U.S. officials seek to ease strain with Britain over Iraq

The top two American military and diplomatic officials in Iraq sought to play down differences over Iraq policy as they met with senior British officials on Tuesday, at a time of mounting pressure here for the withdrawal of Britain's remaining 5,200 soldiers from southern Iraq...

Disputing suggestions that there had been major frictions over recent British moves in Iraq, Petraeus presented them not as a breach of the alliance but as part of a wider process of transferring security responsibilities to Iraqi forces. At one point, he suggested that the Basra pullback might be a template for similar moves in the future by American troops in Iraqi cities farther north, when conditions there permit...

They also held separate meetings with British defense chiefs. Petraeus implied that the meetings with the defense chiefs had included an agreement to defer decisions on any further British troop withdrawal for several months, while new assessments were made of the stability in southern Iraq. "My sense of this is that there's a wait-and-see attitude," he said.

Read the rest at the International Herald Tribune

U.S., Britain Differ on Southern Iraq Mission, Official Says

Differences have emerged between the U.S. and British views of how to operate in southern Iraq, with U.S. officials encouraging the British to be more aggressive for as long as they keep troops there, said an American official closely familiar with Iraq policy...

Some in the U.S. government worry that the British military, which recently withdrew from its last outpost in the south's biggest city, Basra, has made arrangements not to be attacked in exchange for not interfering in the factional fighting for control of the city. The U.S. view, the official said, is that, despite a troop drawdown, the British still have 5,500 soldiers stationed at the Basra airport and should at least try to ensure continued operations in the port there, which is key to the oil exports that are the basis of Iraq's economy.

Peter Harling, the Damascus, Syria-based representative of the nongovernmental International Crisis Group, whose June report on Basra painted a grim picture of conditions there, said of the British: "I do believe this was a negotiated withdrawal." One indication of that, he said, was that the militia of radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr has stopped attacking British forces in their remaining airport enclave. "They've achieved what they wanted," Harling said of Sadr's followers, "and now see the British forces as essentially defeated. They have a point."

Read the rest at the Washington Post

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