ON April 30th 2009 the British army left Basra in Iraq for Afghanistan.
This was after negotiating their retreat from Iraq’s second city with the victorious Iraqi militia forces that they had failed to defeat, and to whom they conceded victory.
While in Basra, British troops were involved in attacks on Iraqi civilians, such as the notorious case of Baha Mousa who was tortured and beaten to death by British troops.
They then were sent from the frying pan of Basra into the fires of Afghanistan, and despite the assurances of government and political leaders that all was quiet in Afghanistan and that not a shot would be fired, the reverse was the case, and they suffered heavy casualties and yet another defeat and retreat.
Now, despite the pledges of the government that British troops would not be returning to Iraq, they are back, as trainers of the Iraqi army and the various Shia militia forces that are in support of it, in the struggle against ISIS.
One of the curiosities of the situation is that ISIS emerged out of the anti-Assad forces that the UK and US had armed and trained and then transported into Syria, where they rapidly defected and established their own Islamic state.
In fact, under the regime of Saddam Hussein in Iraq and the Assad family in Syria there had not been any Al-Qaeda or extreme Islamist presence at all.
These forces emerged on the scene out of the chaos created by the Anglo-American assault in Iraq in 2003 and after the imperialist intervention against Syria in 2010.
Britain’s defence secretary, Michael Fallon, yesterday promised that UK troops will be sent to Iraq only as part of a limited training mission.
However, Amnesty International has called for reassurances that British forces will not be involved in training or organising the Baghdad-backed ‘death squads’, that have been bombing and killing the Sunni population for years.
These murderous sectarian attacks on the Sunni population have played a significant sectarian role in persuading a section of the Sunni population in northern and western Iraq that ISIS constitutes the ‘lesser evil’.
Fallon said yesterday that a small number of British officers would be involved in a strategic and advisory role, but would not provide a number on how many British forces are being sent.
He sought to insist that sending trainers was not equatable with boots on the ground, ignoring all the evidence from Vietnam in the 1960s and 70s onwards that ‘trainers’ rapidly prove to be inadequate for the task, and that some troops and then more and more troops are sent.
In fact, this ‘mission creep’ may well be the ‘plan’ of the British military, who are so keen to have major ground forces at work.
Fallon maintained: ‘What we are going to do is to help the new government of Iraq and its own army take the fight to ISIL through the aircraft that we’ve deployed in the sky, through intelligence gathering and through specialist training, particularly in countering IED (improvised explosive devices), the roadside bombs and the car bombs where we have experience to contribute.’
However, the head of policy at Amnesty International, Allan Hogarth, responded that ‘Iraqi government forces have committed a string of serious human rights violations in recent months . . .
‘In particular, Baghdad-backed Shia militias have been acting as little more than death squads, abducting, torturing and killing those they believe are ISIS supporters.
Iraqis told Amnesty, ‘We Sunnis are regarded with suspicion and treated as if we are all members of ISIS.’ Amnesty outlined that: ‘Among the Shi’a militias believed to be behind a recent wave of abductions and killings are Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq, the Badr Brigades, the Mahdi Army, and Kata’ib Hizbullah, but none of this is new.’
British troops must be withdrawn from Iraq at once. The only way that ISIS can be defeated is through the revolutionary unity of the Shia and Sunni masses, led by the working class, to smash ISIS and install a revolutionary anti-imperialist government in Baghdad.