US Republican presidential candidate John McCain, due in London next week to meet premier Gordon Brown, has said in advance of the visit that the British withdrawal from Basra has put security in danger in southern Iraq.
He has added that a premature withdrawal of US troops will lead to genocide.
Making it plain that he intends to lean on Brown to reverse any British plan for a draw down of British troops, he told yesterday’s ‘Daily Telegraph’: ‘With all due respect, I remain concerned about the situation in Basra.
‘There are different factions that have taken over certain areas. Everybody knows that, it’s not a secret, and General Petraeus is concerned too.’
The official British government position is that all is well in Basra while up to 4,000 British troops are now permanently based at the Basra airport and can only leave it with the permission of the relevant Iraqi authorities.
However, off the record, British officers have said that Basra is in the hands of anti-US-UK militias and that they opposed any further draw down of the British garrison from 4,000 to 2,500 this spring as was pledged by premier Brown last October.
There is no doubt that McCain, who could be the next president of the United States of America, will be leaning on Brown next week to retain a permanent garrison at Basra airport and to ditch the draw down.
He will make clear that a failure to do this will put the ‘special relationship’ in danger.
McCain’s message to Brown was due to be along the lines: if you quit Iraq, you’ll have lost us the war.
UK Defence Secretary Des Browne said in Baghdad on Thursday that the UK commitment to Iraq remains ‘absolute’.
At a press conference in the fortified Green Zone, he added that the nature of that commitment was changing, with more focus on economic development.
Asked about the current levels of violence in the southern city, Browne said: ‘I don’t deny there are continuing problems in Basra.’
Meanwhile, it is expected that premier Brown will bow to US pressure and reverse his UK draw down pledge.