Brown: 1,000 British troops to be Withdrawn

British PM Gordon Brown, in Baghdad and Basra for consultations with PM Nuri al-Maliki, with British commanders, and with his US allies, announced that he would withdraw another 1,000 British troops from Basra by Christmas. A majority of the British public wants all the troops out now, but the US is putting enormous pressure on Brown to go slow.

Brown’s rivals in the Conservative Party charged that the announcement was a cynical publicity stunt. The withdrawal of 500 of those thousand troops had already been announced, and some had already been rotated back to Britain. There were demands that he should have made the announcement first to parliament. (How refreshing; when is the last time that the US president made an important announcement first by going up to the hill and addressing Congress, as opposed to angling for ten minutes on television)?

In fact, the security situation in Basra is a mess. As the London Times noted, “In a snapshot of the unrest, the Basra police chief survived a third assassination attempt on Monday after a roadside bomb exploded near his car. In addition, the Basra council remains in crisis after a failed attempt to oust its governor.”

The police chief was nearly blown up on Monday. And this was the third try! This is security?

The 10th Iraqi Army Division does not appear to be effective. Basra is riven with firefights among Shiite militias and tribal mafias. There have been bombings and assassinations. The governor, Muhammad Misbah al-Wa’ili and the police chief have been accused of corruption and even having people whacked. The governor was formally unseated by his own provincial council in a vote of no confidence late last April, but he refuses to step down, raising the question of how efficiently the local administration can function in the face of such deep political divisions. The police is infiltrated by Shiite militiamen, and is anyway timid about taking on the tribal mafias.

I noted on 23 September, “Al-Hayat also reports on the worsening security situation in the south. It reports one member of the federal parliament as complaining about a wave of assassinations in Basra. Some 100 persons were cut down just in the past week, he alleged, including two aides to Sistani. He demanded the resignation of the Basra police chief and threatened a vote of no confidence against the minister of the interior if nothing was done to stem the killings.”

The Americans in the Green Zone are petrified that a British withdrawal will leave fuel and supply convoys coming up from the south open to attack by the militias, thus placing their lives in danger. They are right to be afraid.

Reuters reports civil war violence for Tuesday. Major incidents:

‘BAGHDAD – A roadside bomb wounded five people, including three policemen, when it blew up near government offices issuing passports in eastern Baghdad’s Zayouna district, police said.

BAGHDAD – A roadside bomb killed two people and wounded four in southern Baghdad, police said.

BAGHDAD – A roadside bomb wounded three civilians when it exploded near a U.S. military patrol in northern Baghdad’s Shaab district, police said.

KHALIS – Suicide bomber killed a woman, a child, two other civilians and two policemen when he detonated his explosives outside a police station in the town of Khalis, 80 km (50 miles) north of Baghdad. Police said 10 people were wounded.

MADAEN – A roadside bomb targeting a police patrol killed one policeman and wounded five in Madaen, about 45 km (25 miles) south of Baghdad, police said.

RIYADH – A mortar round killed one civilian and wounded another on Monday in the town of Riyadh, 60 km (40 miles) southwest of Kirkuk, police said.

HILLA – Gunmen killed one person and wounded a policeman in the city of Hilla, 100 km (62 miles) south of Baghdad, police said. Gunmen had targeted a small group of policemen.

ABBASI – One militant killed and one policeman wounded in clashes between insurgents and Iraqi police in the town of Abbasi, 70 km (45 miles) southwest of Kirkuk, police said.

NEAR KIRKUK – Two burnt bodies were found just outside Kirkuk, 250 km (155 miles) north of Baghdad, police said. . .

HAMZA AL-GHARBI – A roadside bomb targeting a bus wounded one person on Monday in the small town of Hamza al-Gharbi, near the city of Hilla, police said. . .

MOSUL – Gunmen kidnapped Hisham al-Qazaz, the head of Ibn Sina hospital on Monday in Mosul, 390 km (240 miles) north of Baghdad, police said. ‘

At the Global Affairs blog, comments on the crisis in Pakistan; a web interview on Afghanistan with Barnett Rubin, and a comment on an Iranian university’s invitation to Bush to speak in Iran.

Tom Engelardt contemplates the Pentagon’s new casualty count tactics to the kiting of the VC in Vietnam.

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