Revealed: The true extent of Britain's failure in Basra

By Patrick Cockburn

Why is the British Army still in south Iraq and what good does it do there?

The suspicion grows that Mr Blair did not withdraw them because to do so would be too gross an admission of failure and of soldiers' lives uselessly lost. It would also have left the US embarrassingly bereft of allies. Reidar Visser, an expert on Basra, says after all the publicity about the British "soft" approach in Basra in 2003, local people began to notice that the soldiers were less and less in the streets and the militias were taking over. "This, in turn, created a situation where critics claim the sole remaining objective of the British forces in Iraq is to hold out and maintain a physical presence somewhere within the borders of the governorates in the south formally left under their control, while at the same minimising their own casualties.' Mr Visser said.

In other words, British soldiers have stayed and died in southern Iraq, and will continue to do so, because Mr Blair finds it too embarrassing to end what has become a symbolic presence and withdraw them.

Other premiers' foreign policy misjudgements...

Lord Salisbury The Boer War 1899-1902

The discovery of gold in the two independent Boer republics of Transvaal and Orange Free State led Britain to flex its military muscle in South Africa. There was enthusiastic support for the war back home in Britain, giving Salisbury a landslide in the 1900 general election. However, support began to wane as the war dragged on, and there was outrage at Britain's brutal tactics - although they led to the Boers' surrender in 1902. Despite the apparently successful outcome, it contributed in large part to the catastrophic defeat for the Conservatives in 1906, and signified the beginning of the end for the British Empire.

David Lloyd George The Easter Rising 1916

Prior to the 1916 Easter Rising, there had been little appetite among the Irish for armed struggle. But the execution of the leaders of the uprising, and subsequent atrocities, most notably the 1921 Croke Park massacre, only served to strengthen the resolve of those fighting for independence. What had begun as a small-scale armed rebellion escalated rapidly. Sinn Fein won 70 per cent of Irish seats in the 1918 general election, which was followed by an upsurge in violence, retaliations, a declaration of independence, a war of independence, and finally, in 1922, independence itself.

Anthony Eden The Suez Crisis, 1956

Covertly arranged in collusion with France and Israel, the mission was to regain control of the Suez canal (nationalised by Egypt), and to overthrow the nationalist Nasser regime. While the initial outcome was successful from a military point of view, and with minimal British casualties, the perception that Britain and France were seeking some kind of colonial resurgence did not sit well in Washington. Eisenhower made it clear to Eden that he did not want the operation to go ahead, and was willing to back it up with economic threats. Eden caved in, ending his career and Britain's status as world superpower.

Robert Peel The First Anglo-Afghan War 1839-42

The mission to curb Russian influence by deposing Dost Mohammed and restoring former ruler Shoja Shah, was launched to strengthen British interests. The British took Kandahar, Ghazni and Kabul, captured Dost Mohammed and restored the Shoja to the throne. Their job seemingly done, they withdrew, leaving a garrison of troops and two envoys in Kabul. In 1841, however, there was an uprising, and the garrison was forced to surrender. The retreating British troops and civilians were massacred, bolstering Afghanistan's growing reputation as a graveyard for foreign armies.
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