September 19, 2004

Cut and Run: British Edition

Right on. September seems like as good a month as any for Tony Blair to order a drawdown of forces:
The cuts will occur in the combat elements of the deployment - the 5,000-strong infantry and armoured brigade that is committed to the provinces of Basra and Maysan. Four Royal Navy ships will remain in the Gulf.

However, the incoming force will leave its heavy armour, mainly Challenger tanks, behind, but will be equipped with a unit of Warrior armoured troop carriers.

Senior officers say the scaling back of the British commitment in Iraq is a sign of their success in keeping order and helping reconstruction. But both Basra and Maysan have seen heavy combat recently, with some units sustaining up to 35 per cent casualties, and remains restive. The al-Mahdi army, which was responsible for most of the fighting, remains heavily armed.
I'm too tired to look into this now, but is it really the case that Basra is fine and dandy? As of only a few months ago, Shiite militia groups were gunning down Christians all across the province. The Arab media brings back daily reports of drug rings, oil smuggling, high unemployment, frequent looting, vigilantes targeting shopowners... It's not Sadr City-style chaos, but it is the sort of low-key, crime-ridden town that gives "democracy" a bad name. Oh, and it's one of the first places that Sunni-Shiite infighting will start should, you know, elections go poorly and civil war break out. But who knows? If it works, and things don't get too bad (like, front-page headlines bad) Basra might prove the model for our own premature withdrawal...
-- Brad Plumer 6:06 AM || ||