Sunday, February 25, 2007

The British leaving Basra exposes US troops to danger

Which Cheney cheerfully says is a good thing:
In reality, southern Iraq is a quagmire that has defeated all British efforts to impose order, and Blair was pressed by his military commanders to get out altogether -- and quickly. The departure has only been slowed, for the moment, by the pleas of Bush administration officials like Cheney. And far from the disingenuously upbeat prognosis offered by the vice president, the British withdrawal could spell severe trouble for both the Iraqi government and for U.S. troops in that country.

The British helped provide the security that allowed private supply convoys bearing fuel, food and ammunition to travel from Kuwait up through Shiite-held territory to the U.S. military's forward operating bases in and around Baghdad and in Anbar province. Col. Pat Lang, a retired senior officer with the Defense Intelligence Agency, has pointed out that if Shiite militias began attacking those trucks, American troops in the center-north of the country would become sitting ducks for the Sunni Arab guerrillas.


It is unsurprising, therefore, that U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad protested British withdrawal plans last month, telling the BBC, "Our preference would be -- the longer we stay together here, the better." He was certainly speaking on behalf of Cheney, even if the vice president, confronted with the actual departure of America's most important ally, now chooses to feign optimism. Cheney's sunny misdirection obscures the dangers of a British withdrawal in the absence of any sign of reconciliation by Iraq's warring factions. Without a United Nations peacekeeping force or the like to tamp down violence, the British retreat from Basra is unlikely to produce positive results. In the worst-case scenario, it could leave vital U.S. supply lines vulnerable and allow a key exporting port to be closed or hijacked, endangering the survival of the Baghdad government.

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