Peter Hoskin

Fractured relations

Fractured relations
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There's a shocking finding in today's Times, and one that could permanently undermine relations between Britain and Iraq. The reason British troops weren't involved in the early stages of the recent Basra offensive? It wasn't because Iraqi forces could “cope on their own”. Instead, it was down to a deliberate snub on the part of Iraqi officials:

"The Times has learnt ... that when Britain’s most senior officer in Basra, Brigadier Julian Free, commander of 4 Mechanised Brigade, flew into the city to find out what was going on, Nouri al-Maliki, the Iraqi Prime Minister, who was orchestrating the attacks on militia strongholds, declined to see him.

Brigadier Free flew to Basra city with Lieutenant-General Lloyd Austin, the commander of American and coalition forces in Iraq, on March 27, two days after the operation began. The Iraqi Prime Minister spoke only to the US general.

A source familiar with the sequence of events said that Mr al-Maliki seemed to have it in for the British because of the alleged 'deal' struck with the Shia militia last year under which they agreed not to attack Britain’s last battalion as it withdrew from Basra in return for the release of several of their leading members from prison."

This doesn't auger well for the success of future operations in Iraq. Military forces thrive on cohesion. Mr al-Maliki's hotheaded actions will only foster divide. 

Besides, it will also fuel calls for a British withdrawal. If even the Iraqi Government doesn't want our troops there – the detractors will argue – why should they risk life-and-limb by staying?