On Tuesday the British Defense Secretary echoed the absurd Bush administration line that rising violence in Iraq was a sign of progress, the London Independent reported: "The Defense Secretary said the rise in violence was a direct result of the political progress: 'You can measure the success of the politics by the ferocity of the terrorism. As the elections come up we will see more of this.'" -- The remarks were a reaction to intensified pressure in Britain for the withdrawal of British troops following a fiery incident in Basra, which was seen by millions on television. -- The Guardian tried to make sense of a confused situation in Basra involving British troops, some in Arab disguise, Iraqi police, and the Mahdi Army led by Moqtada al-Sadr; little was clear except that the escalating violence was another signal of the burgeoning civil war engulfing Iraq. -- The Times of London said the destruction of a jail was used as a diversion to cover a raid that freed two imprisoned British soldiers whom British military authorities feared were in danger. -- In a separate piece, the London Times reported that British forces acted to keep the two soldiers from being executed. -- In an analysis, Patrick Cockburn quoted an Iraqi goldsmith, who said: "People here have seen that our government has no authority in Iraq." ...
BLAIR UNDER NEW PRESSURE TO SET DATE FOR PULLING TROOPS OUT OF IRAQ
By Kim Sengupta and Colin Brown
September 21, 2005
British forces in Iraq face increased "ferocity of terrorism" as the country heads into the most crucial stage in its political process, the Defense Secretary John Reid said.
His warning came as Tony Blair was under renewed pressure yesterday to set a deadline for withdrawing troops in the wake of British forces' clashes with Iraqi police in Basra.
Mr. Reid ruled out any reduction in troop strength and defended the decision to rescue two SAS soldiers, who had been arrested by Iraqi police. The arrest led to British forces coming under attack, with soldiers engulfed in flames from petrol bombs.
The Defense Secretary said the rise in violence was a direct result of the political progress: "You can measure the success of the politics by the ferocity of the terrorism. As the elections come up we will see more of this."
Yesterday, the office of the Iraqi Prime Minister, Ibrahim al-Jaafari, criticized the rescue, in which the wall of a police compound was flattened by a British armored vehicle, as "a very unfortunate development." The Iraqi government launched an inquiry into the incident.
Critics seized on the events in Basra as evidence of the need for a defined exit strategy for British troops. The Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy said: "The events of the past 24 hours confirm what many of us have worried now over many months -- that Iraq is moving more in the direction of civil war."
Mr. Kennedy said he had repeatedly urged the Prime Minister not to commit troops without a clear exit strategy. "Now, of course, as the situation tragically has got so much worse within Iraq itself, the need for that exit strategy -- and for Parliament to be discussing properly and publicly that exit strategy -- becomes even more essential."
The former international development secretary Clare Short, who resigned in protest over the war, said: "We should negotiate an end to the occupation. They are all saying 'no' because it's such a mess we cannot leave now. But the occupation is a problem now. The Association of Muslim Scholars has said that they would negotiate and call an end to the resistance if we set a date for a withdrawal. Unless we withdraw, it is going to get worse."
Alan Simpson, of the left-wing Campaign Group of Labour MPs, said: "The message is this: it is the time to go. It is a horrible mess, worse than Northern Ireland because no one pretends that this is our country. When you get army personnel dressed as Arabs armed with automatic weapons, everyone will see this as the role of agent provocateurs. It has just ripped our credibility into tatters. Tony Blair should bring an end to this chaos."
Mr. Blair's spokesman said: "The strategy continues to work toward the creation of a fully democratic Iraq." Mr. Reid maintained that the U.S.-British coalition was still going "in the right direction" in Iraq in terms of overall strategy and the incident was merely "local" and did not involve a large number of people.
The British commander on the ground, Brigadier John Lorimer, said: "British armored vehicles being attacked by a violent crowd, including petrol bombs, make graphic television viewing. But this was a small, unrepresentative crowd." It is believed that the two soldiers, members of SAS A Squadron, were investigating whether members of the Iraqi police force were involved in a spate of recent lethal attacks on British forces in southern Iraq. The police are thought to have been heavily infiltrated by Shia militiamen of the Army of Mehdi, led by the radical cleric Muqtada Sadr.
The two soldiers were arrested by the police after a firefight in which, according to the governor of Basra, Mohammed al-Waili, a policeman was shot dead. The Arab television network al-Jazeera broadcast footage which was said to show the contents of the car used by the two SAS men, including assault rifles and an anti-tank weapon.
Under an agreement between Iraqi authorities and coalition forces, the soldiers should have been handed back to the British Army. However, this did not happen after repeated requests and a delegation of six British military personnel were sent to obtain their release. The rescue attempt was carried out after the two SAS men were moved from a room where they were being held and handed over, it is believed, to members of the Army of Mehdi in an adjoining building within the station complex.
Haydar al-Abadi, a spokesman for Mr. Jaafari, said the rescue was "a very unfortunate development. My understanding is that it happened very quickly. Second, there is a lack of discipline in the whole area regarding this matter."
However, some time later Mr. Jaafari's office issued a statement saying: "In response to recent events in Basra, the Iraqi government wants to clarify there is no 'crisis' -- as some media have claimed -- between it and the British Government."
THE QUESTIONS RAISED IN BASRA
WHAT HAPPENED IN BASRA?
Two British SAS soldiers, apparently in Arab clothing and wearing wigs, were arrested while allegedly conducting a surveillance operation on Iraqi police.
When challenged, the soldiers are believed to have fired on a police patrol, killing one officer. A British delegation was dispatched to the police station where they were being held to negotiate their release. Tensions rose after no progress was made, and British Army officials claim they had reason to believe the soldiers had been handed over to a local Islamic militia.
British forces then sent in two Warrior armored vehicles to free the soldiers but they came under attack from a crowd throwing stones and petrol bombs. A larger force of 10 armored vehicles, dozens of troops, and helicopters was then dispatched and the prison was stormed. The soldiers were subsequently released by force from a nearby building, where it is claimed that they were in the custody of the militia. As that operation was under way a crowd hurled more petrol bombs and set British Warrior vehicles alight; at least two British soldiers were injured as they escaped the scene.
CAN THE IRAQI POLICE IN BASRA HOLD COALITION FORCES?
According to U.K. authorities, coalition forces detained by Iraqi authorities must be handed over to the U.S.-led multinational force. The Defense Minister John Reid insisted that Iraq's interior minister had ordered the release of the two British soldiers -- Baghdad authorities have not confirmed this -- and that failure to comply with that order had prompted the military action.
WERE IRAQIS KILLED?
According to Iraqi authorities in Basra, at least two Iraqi civilians were killed in the clashes with British troops that accompanied the storming of the compound. British authorities have not confirmed any civilian deaths and said that three of their soldiers were lightly wounded.
DID PRISONERS ESCAPE?
Local police and Iraqi officials have said that an unspecified number fled as part of the Jamiat prison compound was demolished by British tanks.
IS FURTHER RETALIATION EXPECTED?
The action has stoked an already tense situation following the British capture of two leaders of the Shia Army of Mehdi, led by the radical cleric Muqtada Sadr. The arrests have prompted angry protest in Basra, where Sadr claims to have the loyalty of thousands of armed militiamen.
SHOULD TROOPS BE PULLED OUT?
SIR MALCOLM RIFKIND, FORMER FOREIGN SECRETARY
"Comparisons have been drawn with Northern Ireland. I disagree. In Northern Ireland, there was no doubt as to the moral authority of the armed forces in protecting British citizens in part of our own country. We have no moral authority for our presence in Iraq. The question is, having created a political vacuum there, can we provide a degree of protection until their own security forces can take over? If it became clear that help is neither wanted nor able to be delivered, the British and U.S. governments would have to conclude it was time to leave. We are not at that stage today and, for the sake of the Iraqi people, I hope we don't reach it."
CLARE SHORT, LABOR MP, FORMER INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT SECRETARY
"Like others, I was horrified by the television film of a tank in flames in Basra. It was a reminder of the worst days of Northern Ireland. People will draw parallels with Vietnam. It is a horrible situation, but [I] am afraid that it can only get worse. At least Harold Wilson, who didn't fall out with the Americans, didn't send troops to Vietnam, but it's Tony Blair who has got us there. I heard [the Defense Secretary] John Reid this morning saying it's one little incident, no big deal. But how fragile is the situation getting? Is it out of our control? Blair should set out a clear exit strategy, but it is time that Gordon Brown also set out his views."
REG KEYS, FATHER OF TOM KEYS, KILLED IN IRAQ ON 24 JUNE 2003, AGED 20, SERVING WITH THE ROYAL MILITARY POLICE
"We should bring our troops home. Iraq is drifting into irretrievable civil war and we are losing control of the situation. Every day it seems to be getting worse. I never thought I would see the day when British soldiers were burning on the streets of Iraq. You cannot trust the Iraqi police, as my son found out when he was in a police station and 40 or 50 armed police fled to let him and his colleagues face the mob. Tom told me that you can't train the local police because they have no inherent discipline. They take their lead from tribal and religious leaders."
PAUL BEAVER, DEFENSE ANALYST\
"If we leave now it would lead to civil war and the Arab media would paint it as some form of climb-down or capitulation. British forces should start leaving next year so that we are out by the end of 2006, but we mustn't repeat the shambles of the Spanish withdrawal, which was sudden and left everybody in the lurch. It could have been handled so differently if the U.S. had accepted the British proposal of taking the Iraqi army and police on our side and re-leadering them. But I believe Iraq is a sideshow to what is happening in Afghanistan, which is the real theater of global terrorism."
COLONEL TIM COLLINS, FORMER COMMANDING OFFICER, THE 1ST BATTALION, THE ROYAL IRISH REGIMENT
"We can't let police forces be controlled by single-agenda organizations. It must be a police force for all the people. The Iraqi police force are not in a position to take on responsibility for security."
DR. ROSEMARY HOLLIS, DIRECTOR OF RESEARCH, CHATHAM HOUSE FOREIGN AFFAIRS THINK-TANK
"There have been accusations that the British continue to work with the militia and the local community, which has led to this sorry position. But this is a tried and tested policy that has worked all over the world. The best security is the local community because that's where the best intelligence is. At the same time, the national project has not gelled so there are no laws for the police to uphold."
SIR IQBAL SACRANIE, SECRETARY GENERAL OF THE MUSLIM COUNCIL OF BRITAIN
"We shouldn't be there at all. But since we are, we must convey to the Iraqi people that we are not going to stay forever. We can't cut and run but we need to have a clear timetable for a withdrawal so that we pass control on to Iraqi security. That of course assumes there is going to be any control and at the moment it's difficult to see who has control. What we mustn't do is adopt the defiant position of the Americans. We should only stay as long as it is necessary and we should consider what purpose we are serving."
Politics and Iraq
SOFTLY SOFTLY ARMY TACTICS SHATTERED BY DAY OF CHAOS
By Ian Cobain and Richard Norton-Taylor
September 21, 2005
For some at Westminster, the dramatic events in Basra on Monday were a sure sign that Iraq is sliding towards civil war. For other, more sanguine voices, it was no worse than a busy night in Belfast.
According to Mohammad al-Waili, the governor of Basra province, the British army mounted a "barbaric, savage, and irresponsible" raid on a police station. On the contrary, said Brigadier John Lorimer, commander of British troops in the region, Iraqi police had flouted the law in an "unacceptable" fashion, and two captured soldiers needed to be rescued.
What was clear last night was that the trust between the British army and Iraqi police -- whom the British helped to train -- has largely broken down. Many of the 7,000 Iraqi police in Basra are now said to owe allegiance not to the state, but to the mosque. According to some estimates, at least half will take orders from Moqtada al-Sadr, a radical Shia cleric.
Earlier this year, Steven Vincent, a journalist working for the New York Times, reported that British authorities were reluctant to interfere in the militias' growing influence on the police. Shortly after his report was published, Mr. Vincent was abducted by militiamen and shot dead.
On Sunday, the softly softly British approach appeared to come to an abrupt end when troops detained three leaders of the Mahdi army, the militia loyal to Mr. Sadr. Among those held for questioning about bomb attacks was its local leader, Sheikh Ahmad Majid al-Fartusi. The arrests sparked demonstrations by around 200 supporters who blocked city center streets, brandishing rifles.
During the next 36 hours, events moved quickly. First, on Monday afternoon, two undercover British soldiers, members of a special forces unit, were ordered to stop at an Iraqi police roadblock on the outskirts of the city. According to local reports, the men were driving fast in a civilian car. Each was wearing civilian clothes and Arabic headdress and, on being challenged, one opened fire on the officers, killing one and wounding a second.
John Reid, the defense secretary, said yesterday that the soldiers had been "doing their job." "They were building up a picture and [getting] information to protect our soldiers and their operations."
The pair were overwhelmed and taken initially to Jamiat police station in the city center, where Arab journalists were allowed to take their photographs. Meanwhile, a crowd of men and youths gathered outside the police station, and began hurling rocks and petrol bombs at four British Warriors outside the building.
According to Iraqi reports, three demonstrators were killed and 15 injured. Television viewers around the world saw the moment that the gunner in one Warrior had to leap for his life as he and vehicle became engulfed by flames. Two others, members of the Coldstream Guards battle group, were also hurt. None of the injuries is thought to be life threatening.
At around this time, in the south-west of the city, a second New York Times journalist was being murdered. Fakher Haidar al-Tamimi, 38, who had also worked for the Guardian, had written an article for the Times in which he criticized the British authorities' laissez-faire attitude. According to neighbors, one of the vehicles driven by the men who abducted him from his home was a police car.
On Monday afternoon the Ministry of Defense said British forces were negotiating for the release of the two soldiers. Under Iraqi law, the pair should have been handed over to the coalition forces. At one point, the Iraqi interior minister, Bayan Jabr, is understood to have demanded their release, but the police refused.
In the early hours of yesterday morning, the "negotiations" resulted in a Warrior punching a large hole in the police station's perimeter wall and demolishing a couple of prefabricated buildings inside. An MoD spokesman suggested that this "might" have been an accident. "We would never orchestrate or authorize a jail break," he insisted. During the melee, several dozen prisoners are reported to have escaped, although the MoD denies this.
Brigadier Lorimer said he had taken "the difficult decision to order entry" into the police station after his men discovered their captured comrades were no longer inside. The police admitted they had handed the two men to the Mahdi army.
One Iraqi member of parliament said yesterday that the Mahdi army had been hoping to keep the two men as hostages who could be exchanged for their arrested leaders. A helicopter is thought to have seen a car being driven from the police station, however, and the two soldiers were later rescued from a nearby house.
Yesterday police complained the British had behaved like "terrorists." "A tank cannon struck a room where a policeman was praying," said one officer, Abbas Hassan. "This is terrorism. All we had was rifles."
Brigadier Lorimer preferred to describe it as "a difficult day." He added: "We have put this behind us and will move on".
POLICE STATION RAID WAS DIVERSION AS SAS SQUAD RESCUED COMRADES
By Ali Hamdani (Baghdad) and Daniel McGrory
** Army commanders insist they had to move to save the lives of the two British soldiers **
Times Online (UK)
September 21, 2005
An SAS team used the noise of armored vehicles bulldozing their way through a nearby police compound to mask the raid that freed their comrades.
The rescuers, from the same squad as the captives, blew out the doors and windows of the smart suburban villa with plastic explosive and hurled stun grenades at the militiamen guarding the two undercover soldiers.
A short, intense burst of automatic gunfire was heard before the men were freed and their captors were seen being dragged away, hoods over their heads and their hands tied behind their backs.
Neighbors said the entire operation took only a couple of minutes while attention was focused a hundred yards away on the armys invasion of the main Jamiat police compound.
Army commanders denied being heavy-handed, insisting that they had no option but to stage a rescue mission once they had learnt that the soldiers had been handed over to extremists.
Brigadier John Lorimer, who commanded the operation, said: I had good reason to believe the lives of the two soldiers were at risk.
The soldiers had been beaten and rogue policemen had been touring the area with loudhailers urging demonstrators on to the streets to protest that the British saboteurs had been planning explosions in the city which would be blamed on followers of Moqtada al-Sadr, the Shia cleric.
The Iraqis displayed photographs of the explosives, weaponry, and several bags of equipment allegedly found in the boot of the mens unmarked car when they had been stopped at a checkpoint. There were also wigs, Arab headdress, and sophisticated communications equipment.
The two soldiers are believed to have been investigating a corrupt police unit in Basra who were colluding with Shia militia leaders. Some of the men who later interrogated them are believed to be part of this same unit.
The mob which quickly gathered outside the detention center were shouting for the Britons to be hanged as spies.
Hours of negotiations between army officers and local dignitaries were getting nowhere, and after armored vehicles were firebombed by a mob and three soldiers injured the order was given at 9pm for Warrior armored personnel carriers to smash their way into the compound.
A policemen said that he saw two walls knocked down as the Warriors crushed parked cars and demolished a line of prefabricated huts used as offices and sleeping quarters. Abbas Hassan, another officer, said: Four tanks invaded the area. A tank cannon struck a room where a policeman was praying.
The British search parties had to pick their way over splintered furniture, metal-bed frames and air-conditioning units.
Brigadier Lorimer would later call it minor damage. Muhammad al-Waili, the Governor of Basra province, claimed it was barbaric, savage and irresponsible.
Troops burst into every room as senior officers explained they had to ensure the missing Britons were not being hidden among the sprawl of buildings. If not, then they had to force the police to reveal where they had been taken. A military source said: We knew they couldnt have gone far because of our cordon but we were sure time was running out.
One of the Iraqi prisoners who took advantage of the chaos to escape said that he had briefly shared a cell with the Britons. The man described how he watched as the pair were hauled away by guards who ordered inmates to strip off their Arab robes so they could disguise the men.
The suspicion was that the militiamen would try to smuggle their captives out of the protective cordon and use them as hostages in exchange for two of their leaders arrested by British troops on Sunday. The turning point came just before 7.30pm with the report that the Britons had been moved and officers manning the protective cordon thrown around the Hay al-Khalij district spotting a number of known agitators.
These were the same men who had orchestrated the earlier petrol bomb attacks on troops as they tried to pull back to neighboring streets of Hayaniyah, a stronghold of the outlawed al-Mahdi Army. They were seen leading a gang of protestors converging for a second attack on troops from 12 Mechanized Brigade who were guarding the police compound.
Brigadier Lorimer later demanded that the Iraqis explain why the soldiers were not immediately handed over to coalition forces as required by the agreement regulating the British presence in Iraq. This is unacceptable and we wont hesitate to take action against those involved in planning and conducting attacks against coalition forces, he said.
John Reid, the Defense Secretary, insisted that the attack was justified. When it is necessary to protect British servicemen, we will take that action. And by God it was effective.
There remained major differences last night in the rival accounts of the raid. Brigadier Lorimer says no Iraqis were injured. Local officials claim one prison guard was killed and another injured. The Iraqi Government also appeared split. Haider al-Ebadi, an advisor to Ibrahim Jaafari, the Prime Minister, decsribed the raid as a very unfortunate development.
But last night the Iraqi Government issued a statement denying that there was a crisis in relations between Baghdad and London.
SAS STORMED PRISON TO SAVE SOLDIERS FROM EXECUTION
By Philip Webster (Political Editor) and Ali Hamdani (Baghdad)
September 21, 2005
British troops stormed an Iraqi police compound in Basra because they feared that two captured SAS soldiers were in danger of being summarily executed by Shia militiamen. The intelligence we had received left us in no doubt these men were going to be killed, one senior military source told the Times yesterday.
Mondays events caused deep concern within the Government yesterday. John Reid, the Defense Secretary, raised the prospect that Iraqi police seized the two special forces soldiers in collusion with the Mahdi Army, a banned militia loyal to the Shia firebrand Moqtada al-Sadr. The behavior of the Iraqi police was worrying and not yet understood, he said.
Fears that hardline Islamic militia are tightening their grip on southern Iraq, with the connivance of Iraqi police, put Tony Blair under pressure to outline an exit strategy for the 8,500 British forces in Iraq.
Michael Howard, the Tory leader, said that the Government needed to set out an honest account of the difficulties it faced in Iraq. If the Iraqi police are not doing their job properly and if, as appears to have been the case yesterday, they are colluding with extremist militants against British soldiers, that is a cause for very deep concern, he told the BBC.
If, as has been suggested, the Iraqi police has been systematically infiltrated in this way, then we need, perhaps, to set about building a different kind of police force.
Charles Kennedy, the Liberal Democrat leader, said that the events in Basra confirmed his fears that Iraq was drifting towards civil war. He said: The most worrying thing of all is if we are now seeing a breakdown in communication, trust, and co-operation between the British forces, who have done a heroic job there under the most dreadful of circumstances, and aspects at least of the Iraqi domestic security forces.
The developments in Basra were discussed at a meeting of the Cabinet, which reaffirmed the existing strategy that the British presence can be run down only when Iraqi security forces believe they have sufficient control. But Mr, Blairs hopes that he could use next weeks Labor Party conference to direct attention back to the domestic agenda look set to be thwarted yet again.
The two undercover soldiers were apparently captured and taken to the police station after exchanging fire with Iraqi police. An angry mob attacked a British unit sent to rescue them, setting fire to two Warrior armoured fighting vehicles. Late on Monday a much bigger force stormed the station and grabbed the soldiers from a neighbouring villa.
The British action angered the Iraqi authorities. Muhammad al-Waili, the Governor of Basra province, called it barbaric, savage and irresponsible. A spokesman for Ibrahim al-Jaafari, the Iraqi Prime Minister, called it a very unfortunate development.
Iraqi television fuelled that anger by broadcasting pictures of the two soldiers inside the station as the police inspected wigs, Arab headdresses, an anti-tank missile and communications equipment allegedly seized from the soldiers car.
'PEOPLE HERE SEE THE IRAQI GOVERNMENT HAS NO AUTHORITY'
By Patrick Cockburn
Independent (UK) September 21, 2005
The Iraqi official was visibly flustered and embarrassed when questioned in Baghdad about the storming of the police station in Basra by British troops.
"It is a very unfortunate development that the British forces should try to release their soldiers the way it happened," Haydar al-Abadi, the Prime Minister's press secretary, told the Independent.
He defended the way the local police had acted. He said: "For two guys to collect information in civilian clothes, in the current tense security situation, I believe that the reaction of the Iraqi security is totally understandable."
It was not a good day for the Iraqi government. It wanted to publicize the capture of the northern city of Tal Afar by the Iraqi army backed by U.S. forces at the weekend. Instead it had to answer question after question about why Iraqi sovereignty had been treated with such contempt at the other end of the country.
At the weekend an Iraqi minister said to me in frustration: "We must try to eliminate the grey areas where our authority conflicts with the coalition. We must try to reach some understanding about what to do when our jurisdictions clash."
Ordinary Iraqis were drawing their own conclusion about what had happened in Basra. Abdul Hamid, a goldsmith, said over the phone from the city: "People here have seen that our government has no authority in Iraq. The British did not respect them when they smashed into the jail, so why should we respect our own leaders?"
This is not entirely surprising. Iraqis, both Sunni and Shia, have always been dubious about how much real sovereignty resided with their government, despite the heavily publicized handover of power to an Iraqi interim government by the U.S. and Britain in June 2004.
Although the armed uprising against the occupation is currently confined to the five million Sunni Arabs, it is a mistake to think that the 15 to 16 million Shia Iraqis are enamored of the presence of foreign troops. Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, their most influential leader, has refused since the invasion to meet American and British officials in Iraq. He has also argued consistently that the Shia should exercise their power through elections and not through armed strength. Again and again Shia leaders say they made a mistake in 1920 by heading the rebellion against the British occupation and opening the way for the Sunni Arabs, predominant in Baghdad during the Ottoman Empire, to stay in power. Since the summer of 2003, when six British military police were killed in a police station at Majar al-Kabir, north of Basra, the British Army has tried hard to avoid friction with Iraqis in the south. The lesson seemed to have been learnt that searching for weapons or trying to exert full control of southern Iraq would provoke an angry reaction.
The religious parties and their militias largely took over. There is the Badr Organization (the renamed Badr Brigade), which is the military wing of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), and the Army of Mehdi of Muqtada Sadr. British commentators were yesterday muttering suspiciously about these militias and their supposed links with Iran.
The impression is that these are isolated groups. Brigadier John Lorrimer, commander of the 12th Mechanized Brigade, claimed that "this was a small, unrepresentative crowd of about 200 to 300 in a city of 1.5 million". Just how the brigadier was able to determine that the crowd was acting contrary to local public opinion he did not explain. On the contrary, SCIRI was highly successful in the elections in January. Sadr, while ambivalent about the poll, is also well represented in the interim National Assembly. The militia takeover of the local police force reflects their real political strength.