The British Army has withdrawn its last troops from central Basra to the relative safety of the airport.
A Pentagon emissary, General Keane, and the International Crisis Group agree, from opposite perspectives, that Basra is in anarchy. Whitehall claims of course that it’s all part of a phased handover to the Iraqi army and government; though without troops in the streets the handover has already happened. Basra is now a real-life pilot for American withdrawal, a slice of Iraq without foreign troops. It will be a bloody mess until one faction comes out on top and imposes a modicum of order.
Gordon Brown has refused, in a letter to the Liberal Democrat leader Menzies Campbell, to set a withdrawal timetable. This was spun as pro-American. But the money quote is this:
Decisions on the ground will be made on the basis of advice from our military and other experts, taking fully into consideration the safety of our armed forces.
I will decide when we go, not tell anybody till it happens, and pretend the decision is based on local progress.
Is there any atrocity in the Basra streets that could reverse the British exit? Perhaps someone blowing up the oil terminal – but the Shia factions and gangsters fighting for control are very unlikely to kill this golden goose, with its conveniently broken meters.
Way back I predicted that British troops would be gone from Basra 6 months into Brown’s Premiership. It may be sooner.