Brown orders troop retreat from Basra City

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BRITISH troops retreated from Basra City, quitting their base in the Presidential Palace on the banks of the Shatt al-Arab waterway in the dead of night, beginning at 1am on Monday morning.

The 550 members of the Fourth Battalion The Rifles, guarded by Challenger II tanks, Warrior armoured vehicles and helicopters, staged a speedy withdrawal to Basra Air Station in the desert.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who gave the order to retreat, said that the withdrawal of British troops from Basra City was not a defeat. He said it was ‘pre-planned and organised’ and British forces would take an overwatch role.

General Mohan Tahir, the head of the Iraqi 10th Army, speaking from the Presidential Palace, said his troops had been based there for a week. He said: ‘The Iraqi army has now taken over responsibility and the area is off limits.’

In Basra City, where militias control the streets, there was rejoicing over the British retreat. The people regard it as a victory for their resistance and a defeat for the British occupation forces.

Sadoun Hami, a local army officer said: ‘We are happy to be rid of the British. They were harassing us in the streets and raided our houses and arrested our sons. We now want to see them out of greater Basra.’

The British are expected to turn Basra over to ‘provincial Iraqi control’ in the autumn, amid speculation that they will then withdraw most of their troops.

The retreat yesterday was decided by Brown in line with the demands of Britain’s military hierarchy, whose spokesmen have been very vocal over the past few days concerning the damage the Iraqi debacle is causing to the British Army and the need to strengthen its forces in Afghanistan.

They maintain that US President George Bush’s administration had no clear strategy or clear objectives for Iraq after its occupation in 2003.

At the weekend, General Mike Jackson, the former head of the British Army during the 2003 invasion said that former US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s approach to the post-invasion situation was ‘intellectually bankrupt’.

In a well-timed coincidence, Bush turned up in Iraq yesterday after the British retreat from Basra City, with almost all of his administration in tow – Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Peter Pace.

They met General David Petraeus, the US top commander in Iraq, to discuss what to do about the crisis facing the US-led occupation.

Bush faces the fact that British forces are being driven out and the US will have to send in forces to attempt to control the oil-rich region that serves as a vital supply route and exit, via Kuwait.

Ten days ago General Jack Keane, the Pentagon’s envoy in Iraq said: ‘I think there is a general (British) disengagement from what the key issues are around Basra.’ He expressed concern that the US military will have to move into the south ‘if the situation gets worse in Basra if and when British troops leave’.

Keane said the British Army needed to be increased in size to ‘assist in maintaining security as the situations in the 21st century begin to evolve and challenge the West’.

Britain, the very junior political and military partner of the US in Iraq is preparing to get out. The British lion has proved to be a mangy, toothless animal in no shape for the ‘challenge to the West’.

Bush and company are acknowledging by their visit that the whole future of their administration rests on saving something from the Iraq debacle, because Petraeus is due to deliver his crucial report to Congress on this military adventure on September 15.

This is clearly the time for British and American workers to take action to force the withdrawal of troops from Iraq and come to the support of the Iraqi people and their resistance movements.

At next week’s Trades Union Congress delegates must ensure that the trade unions call mass action – strikes, rallies and a national demonstration – to demand Brown withdraws troops from Iraq immediately. If he refuses, he must be forced to resign and make way for a workers’ government that will get the troops out.