The Surge: the view from London
AFP LONDON — Last night’s speech was at 2 am U.K. time, and thus too late for the British papers to give it the full treatment. Bizarrely, though, there seems to be less general interest in Bush’s last heave than there was in either the Iraq Study Group report or the U.S. midterm elections. The ...
LONDON — Last night’s speech was at 2 am U.K. time, and thus too late for the British papers to give it the full treatment. Bizarrely, though, there seems to be less general interest in Bush’s last heave than there was in either the Iraq Study Group report or the U.S. midterm elections.
The government’s response has been to welcome Bush’s new plan, but stress that it doesn’t change anything for the British, as Basra is different from Baghdad. Indeed, the Daily Telegraph reports today that 3,000 British troops—almost half the current deployment—will be withdrawn by May.
The British position is about U.K. politics, not Iraq. The long-awaited handover from Tony Blair to the Chancellor Gordon Brown is expected to be announced in May and take effect in June. Both men would like British withdrawal from Iraq to be clearly underway by then—Blair doesn’t want to leave with Iraq unresolved and Brown doesn’t want the war it to tarnish the beginning of his premiership. An opinion poll earlier this week illustrates just how unpopular the mission now is; 60 percent want British troops withdrawn as soon as possible, and more people hold Bush responsible for the continuing violence in Iraq than al Qaeda, Iran, Syria and Saddam combined.
Developments in Iraq are unlikely to stick to the Blair-Brown timetable, however. First, if the U.S. push in Baghdad is successful, the Shiite militias are likely to step up their activities in Basra to demonstrate their enduring strength. Second, if it isn’t just rhetoric when Bush says that the United States “will interrupt the flow of support from Iran and Syria” and “seek out and destroy the networks providing advanced weaponry and training to our enemies in Iraq,” then the Brits—who patrol the southern border with Iran—will find themselves on the front lines of this effort and the receiving end of the Iranian response.
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