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The leaving of Mesopotamia

General David Petraeus is at 10 Downing St today for talks with our new(-ish) PM, Gordon Brown. The chat is that Petraeus will try to push the American view that British troops need to stay in Iraq for the foreseeable … Read More

By / September 18, 2007

General David Petraeus is at 10 Downing St today for talks with our new(-ish) PM, Gordon Brown. The chat is that Petraeus will try to push the American view that British troops need to stay in Iraq for the foreseeable future. However, it’s unlikely that Brown will give the good General any assurances on that score.

It’s not widely realised, but British troops have one foot on the plane home already. The last 500 troops of the 5,500 left in Iraq have just been withdrawn to the only UK base in the south of the country, which is, er, Basra airport. (How’s that for symbolism?) It’s difficult to know how long they’re going to stay, but for all intents and purposes it’s now just a countdown till wheels-up.

This comes in the context of quiet but growing criticism from officials in Washington of the British Army’s performance and role in the south of Iraq, normally in off-the-record briefings, whilst at the same time warning us not to “cut and run”. In turn, British generals have slammed the US Army as “institutionally racist” and had some harsh words for the bungling post-war policy that’s at least partly responsible for exacerbating Iraq’s descent into chaos and which is, of course, entirely your fault.

Whether you were in favour of this war in 2003 (as, reluctantly, I was) or vehemently against, one of the things we can agree on is that it’s not ending well. Disagreements between Britain and the US play well over here; faced with the most unpopular US President since polling began, senior figures in the Labour government are probably quite pleased when “unnamed sources” inside the Beltway make their displeasure known. The government’s core vote melted away in the last years of the Blair government; now, in the Brown supremacy, these traditional Labour voters are looking for reasons to come back into the fold. A withdrawal from Iraq, and a mild but perceptible cooling of relations with the Bush White House, will fit the bill nicely.

And if – or when – the time comes to threaten Iran with the big stick, expect us to give you our wholehearted and unflinching support – from the comfort of our armchairs.

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