Iraq - "handover" but no end to the occupation

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17 December 2007

There was much fanfare around Sunday's handover of Basra Province to Iraqi forces. Does it mean that British troops will be flown back home after nearly 5 years of bloody occupation? Well, not really.

In fact, there is to be no change on the ground. The same numbers will remain in the huge British base at Basra airport - between 4,700 and 5,500, depending on whom you believe. Brown promised that this number would drop to 2,500 from April. But will it? And when will the occupation end? Who can trust him, given Labour's record?

During his recent visit to Basra, Brown boasted that the level of violence in Iraq has been "reduced by 90%". But if this were true, why would his sidekick, Foreign Secretary David Milliband, argue for keeping the troops in Iraq on the grounds that there is a need to "retain the capacity to intervene again should there be a breakdown of order"?

Surely the British-trained and armed Iraqi 14th division, now in control of security in Basra province, should be able to deal with any situation in the "low-violence" Iraq flaunted by Brown? Unless, of course, Brown is deliberately lying.

In this respect, a recent opinion poll among the population of Basra is revealing: 86% believe that the British occupation made security worse! No wonder! The invasion led to the emergence of Fundamentalist militias in the political vacuum left by the collapse of Saddam Hussein. The US-British policy of relying on the militias to control the population while using divide to rule tactics, boosted their profile and exacerbated their rivalries.

By now, the militias rule on the ground, control parts of the western-backed state machinery and wage permanent turf wars against one another. In this respect, Basra is just as bad as the rest of Iraq: in the militias' overbidding to impose their rule on the streets, they have killed 40 women over the past 3 months for wearing the "wrong" clothes.

So much for the "improved" security! But Brown's government could live with that. After all, what does Labour care if the Iraqis are caught in the cross fire between the militias, when it was Labour who ordered them to be bombed in the first place?

However there is also another twist to Brown's policy - probably his main reason for keeping the troops in Iraq. For this government has every reason to doubt that the Iraqi authorities (and their US masters) will respect British interests - i.e. the interests of Britain's big companies!

So if any soldier wonders why he is kept drilling at Basra Airport and risking his life due to road-side bombs or mortar attacks, the answer is: for the same reason that he was sent there in the first place : that is, to protect the interests of the City's big shareholders! Troops out of Iraq, now!