End game in ‘Operation Iraqi Liberation’

The British are withdrawing from the province of Basra in the south of Iraq, and the occupation of that country is now clearly exposed as an almost completely U.S. affair.[1] When the Iraq war began in 2003, it was already considerably different than the earlier war in 1991. The “Coalition of the Willing” put together by George W. Bush was just a shadow of the massive force, which backed his father’s war. France, Germany and Canada were among the major powers that refused to participate in 2003. Now, this already weak coalition is starting to completely unravel – it is not just the Brits who are drawing down their troop numbers.

Just days after defeating Bush ally John Howard, newly elected Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd announced during a radio interview in Melbourne, that Australia’s “combat force in Iraq we would have home by around about the middle of next year [2008].”[2] Australia joins the now very long list of countries to have pulled out of the Iraq war. As of this writing the following countries had departed from this catastrophe:

1) Nicaragua (Feb. 2004)
2) Spain (late Apr. 2004)
3) Dominican Republic (early May 2004)
4) Honduras (late May 2004)
5) Philippines (Jul. 19, 2004)
6) Thailand (late Aug. 2004)
7) New Zealand (late Sept. 2004)
8) Tonga (mid-Dec. 2004)
9) Portugal (mid-Feb. 2005)
10) The Netherlands (Mar. 2005)
11) Hungary (Mar. 2005)
12) Singapore (Mar. 2005)
13) Norway (Oct. 2005)
14) Ukraine (Dec. 2005)
15) Japan (July 17, 2006)
16) Italy (Nov. 2006)
17) Slovakia (Jan 2007)
18) Denmark (August 10, 2007)

In addition, South Korean soldiers “will be withdrawn before the Dec. 19 [2007] presidential election” officials of the Defence Ministry were quoted as saying, and Poland’s new defence minister said that Poland’s troops would likely be gone by mid-2008.[3]

However, the really big story has been the end of the British role in the south of Iraq. Britain was the only one of the allies in the Coalition of the Willing to supply a militarily significant troop deployment to back up the U.S. But September 3, 2007, the last British troops remaining in the city of Basra – capital of the province by the same name, occupied by the Brits since 2003 – abandoned the presidential palaces in the city and withdrew to the Basra air station. They left under the cover of darkness, and this withdrawal took anywhere from 12 to 16 hours (depending on the reports), in spite of the fact that the air base is only five miles from the outskirts of Basra, ten miles in total from the presidential palace.

Why would they be so careful and slow about their departure? It might have something to do with the fact that they are, well, hated. A survey for BBC Newsnight showed that “more than 85% of the residents of Basra believe British troops have had a negative effect on the Iraqi province since 2003.” Putting the case the other way makes the situation even more transparent. “Only 2% of Basra residents believe that British troops have had a positive effect on the province.” Two per cent – that is the “margin of error” in many polls, so small as to be effectively, zero. Not surprisingly, given these figures, “83 % of those surveyed said they wanted British troops to leave Iraq, including 63% who wanted them to leave the Middle East altogether.”[4] This is the statistical profile of anger against occupation.

The government spin was working overtime in the wake of the September withdrawal from the city of Basra. “Let me make this very clear” said new Prime Minister Gordon Brown, “This is a pre-planned, and this is an organized move from Basra Palace to Basra Air Station,” this in response to a question asking if the move was a “pull-out in defeat … a retreat.”[5] In fact, “British soldiers effectively withdrew from the streets of Basra two years ago and have spent much of the time since hunkered down in their barracks,” according to Brendan O’Neill, editor of spiked.[6] While “hunkered,” the troops had to endure constant assaults. Among the troops withdrawn were the 4th Battalion, the Rifles Battle Group, who had held “the last British base in Basra against a huge rebel onslaught. In a three-month stand at Basra Palace, the Rifles endured 2,000 mortar and rocket attacks, 100 roadside bombs and 400 rocket-propelled grenade strikes … In total they had 11 killed and 62 wounded on tour – more than any other unit in Iraq.”[7] But defeat or not, the fact is that there are now no coalition troops in Baghdad’s second major city. All 5,500 British troops are in the air station – and they have company: the British and U.S. consulates are also based there.[8] If it wasn’t so serious it would be funny – the occupiers are so isolated and weak, that the two consulates and all the troops huddle together at the air station, with absolutely no presence in the city of 1.8 million.

But the British are leaving, and trying to avoid a “Saigon moment” – referring to the chaotic last hours of the U.S. retreat from Vietnam in 1975, where helicopters ferried the last remaining, terrified Americans out of the country, leaving thousands of Vietnamese supporters behind to meet their fate.[9] Gordon Brown’s plan is to reduce troop levels by half sometime in 2008, a plan challenged by some saying that “the 2,500 troops left will be unable to do more than defend themselves at their base in Basra”[10] something that would make a “Saigon moment” quite plausible.

What does that leave in Iraq as allies for the Americans? After subtracting the British, South Koreans, Australians and Poles, the list of allies is very short, and involves very few troops.[11]

1) Romania (865)
2) El Salvador (380)
3) Georgia (300)
4) Azerbaijan (150)
5) Bulgaria (less than 150)
6) Latvia (136)
7) Albania (120)
8) Czech Republic (100)
9) Mongolia (100)
10) Lithuania (less than 50)
11) Armenia (46)
12) Bosnia & Herzegovina (37)
13) Estonia (34)
14) Macedonia (33)
15) Kazakhstan (29
16) Moldova (12)

This is, to say the least, a very weak coalition. We are approaching the end game of this horrible imperialist adventure, which has cost so many lives. And for what – when the occupiers leave a city under a hail of bullets, and are visibly hated, this war has clearly had little to do with “liberation” – unless of course it had kept its short-lived initial name – OIL – Operation Iraqi Liberation.[12]

© 2007 Paul Kellogg


[1] Paul von Zielbauer, “British Hand Over Basra to Iraqis,” The New York Times, www.nytimes.com, December 16, 2007
[2] Barbara McMahon, “Rudd sets date for Iraq pull-out,” Guardian Unlimited, www.guardian.co.uk, December 1, 2007
[3] Information from “Iraq Coalition Troops: Non-US Forces in Iraq – February 2007”, www.globalsecurity.org ; “Rest of Danish forces withdraw from Basra,” Iraq Updates, www.iraqupdates.com, August 2, 2007 ; “S Korea announces to withdraw all troops from Afghanistan,” China View, http://news.xinhuanet.com, November 5, 2007 ; Associated Press, “Report: Poland could pull troops from Iraq in summer 2008 defense minister says,” International Herald Tribune, www.iht.com, November 27, 2007
[4] “Basra residents blame UK troops,” BBC News, www.bbc.co.uk, December 14, 2007
[5] Thomas Harding, “British troops leave Basra city,” Daily Telegraph, www.telegraph.co.uk, September 4, 2007
[6] Brendan O’Neill, “Basra withdrawal: a media stunt to end a PR war,” www.spiked-online.com, September 4, 2007
[7] Tom Newton Dunn, “Our lions roar back from Iraq”, The Sun, www.thesun.co.uk, November 24, 2007
[8] Thomas Harding, “British troops leave Basra city”
[9] Michael Smith and Sarah Baxter, “Army chiefs fear Iraq exit will be Britain’s Saigon moment,” The Sunday Times, www.timesonline.co.uk, August 19, 2007
[10] Mark Deen, “U.K.’s Iraq Pull-Out Plan May Not Work, Lawmakers Say (Update 1),” www.bloomberg.com, December 3, 2007
[11] Information from “Iraq Coalition Troops: Non-US Forces in Iraq – February 2007”, www.globalsecurity,org
[12] Ari Fleischer, “Press Briefing”, www.whitehouse.gov, March 24, 2003

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