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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Analysis: The British Are Leaving

Council on Foreign Relations

February 23, 2007
Prepared by: Lionel Beehner

Basra is no Baghdad. There is no insurgency, no car bombs or kidnappings (at least none recently), no outposts of foreign jihadis. But the oil-rich city in southern Iraq is dangerous no less. British forces have sustained roughly one hundred casualties since taking over security duties four years ago (Iraq Coalition Casualties). Now Britain says it will draw down 1,600 troops (NYT) and reduce its primary combat role to one of training and supporting Iraqi security forces. The drawdown stands in marked contrast to the buildup of American troops in Baghdad.

The official explanation for Britain's partial pullout is twofold: First, British forces are overstretched, given their troop commitments in southern Afghanistan as well as southern Iraq. Britain has been pressed to add an additional eight hundred forces (LAT) to fight the Taliban in Afghanistan. Second, British officials say they have largely pacified the region around Basra and that Iraqi forces are ready to take on the bulk of security duties, with the British playing only a supportive role. Vice President Dick Cheney agreed the situation near Basra had “dramatically improved” and hailed the British drawdown as a sign of success. Writes British journalist Bartle Breese Bull in the New York Times: “In the south, Iraq's elections and constitutional processes have been far more successful in terms of security and turnout than almost anywhere else in the country.”

But some analysts say characterizing the British drawdown as progress is wishful thinking at best.

Read the rest of this article on the cfr.org website.

Copyright 2007 by the Council on Foreign Relations. This material is republished on GlobalSecurity.org with specific permission from the cfr.org. Reprint and republication queries for this article should be directed to cfr.org.

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