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    22 February 2007

    The British Withdrawal

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    As we've all heard Tony Blair has decided to begin the redeployment of his military out of Southern Iraq. We've also heard that this is some sort of validation of sound policy or a form progress in Iraq. I won't comment on that point of view because it's stupid. But what I will imply is that this makes the situation we are "surging" our troops into even more difficult. I'll do this by linking to a memo from Wayne White, a senior member of the State Departments Bureau of Intelligence and Research, obtained by Col. Pat Lang and posted to his blog. First the reality of the situation in Southern Iraq:
    The south is not as has been portrayed in some upbeat UK and US official comments today. Southern Iraq is a very much troubled region where most localities are dominated by militias (sometimes rival militias), governance (to the extent governance linked to Baghdad exists at all beyond the symbolic in large areas) is tenuous, security forces are in most cases far more loyal to militias (often local, semi-autonomous militia elements) than legal authorities (such as the mayor of Basrah), criminality (including large-scale oil & fuel smuggling) is endemic, and low-level assassinations of the relatively few Sunni Arabs still present there is ongoing. When, late last year, British forces attempted to turn over a major base to the Iraqi military (and more bases are to be left behind as UK forces phase out), it was thoroughly looted.

    Levels of overall violence are dramatically lower in the south only because of the area's relatively homogenous Shi'a population and its distance from Sunni Arab insurgent strongholds to the north, not significant advantages in governance and the deployment of security forces loyal to formal civil authority. As British forces gradually pull out, the south will likely fall deeper into misgovernance, militia domination and crime.

    Sorry Mr. Cheney but this is the reality of the situation. The Brits were taking fire yesterday, they took fire today and they'll be takeing fire in the future as they pull out. It's understandable that they want to leave Iraq. They want to fight al Qaeda, they want to fight the War on Terror; not police intra-sectarian tensions.

    But what does this mean for the US? Two things:
    1) Our means of supplying our forces is vulnerable, and

    2) so is our path of exit.

    Back to Wayne White:
    The current problem of resupply from Kuwait aside, when US forces pull out of Iraq (and this is a "when," not an "if," by anyone's definition), it could prove difficult to move large numbers of personnel and millions of tons of weapon systems, equipment and supplies through this volitile area (an otherwise preferred route). In addition, the seemingly inevitable damage to bases and airfields left behind by the British probably would further complicate the issue of withdrawal for the US.

    If all this weren't enough, the current Baghdad surge (an iffy proposition to begin with) also may well be affected adversely. For example, Muqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army has a large presence in the south--even near-control in some neighborhoods and localities. To the extent Sadr's organization and its Mahdi Army are pressured in Baghdad, and with the British presence thinning in the south, many leaders and cadres can simply take refuge with even greater ease beyond the effective reach of US forces and what passes for a government in Baghdad for the duration of the surge.

    Let me end by reminding the reader that the State Departments Bureau of Intelligence and Research was the only member of the intelligence community (IC) that got the aftermath of the US invasion of Iraq correct and/or they were the only ones with the balls to actually voice their concerns.

    Posted by Geoff

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