After Britain partially withdrew forces from southern Iraq in September, the White House slandered its “closest ally,” claiming “British forces have performed poorly in Basra” and suggested “it’s best that they leave.”
The White House should take notice of what has happened in Basra as British troops have left. According to Maj. Gen. Graham Binns, commander of British forces in Basra, the presence of British troops instigated violence. Now, violence has reportedly dropped to one-tenth that of earlier levels:
The presence of British forces in downtown Basra, Iraq’s second-largest city, was the single largest instigator of violence, Maj. Gen. Graham Binns told reporters Thursday on a visit to Baghdad’s Green Zone.
“We thought, ‘If 90 percent of the violence is directed at us, what would happen if we stepped back?,’” Binns said.
Sectarian tensions in Basra, a predominantly Shiite city, are not as high in other parts of Iraq, but “it has seen major fighting between insurgents and coalition troops.” British Defense Secretary Des Browne observed last month:
The people of that city are no longer subject to the significant level of violence that was directed against the British forces and our allies.
In April, 12 British troops were killed in Iraq in contrast to just 1 in October. Furthermore, “British officials expected a spike in such ‘intra-militia violence’ after they pulled back from the city’s center, and were surprised to find none,” Binns said.
When announcing a further withdrawal in early October, Prime Minister Gordon Brown said Basra was “calmer” since British forces handed over their base in early September. “Indeed, in the last month, there have been five indirect fire attacks on Basra Air Station compared with 87 in July,” he observed.
While the region still sees ongoing volatility, the lesson learned by the British — that they provoked violence instead of quelling it — is one that can be applied to the U.S. presence in Iraq as well.