UK Forces in 'Proxy War with Iran'

September 7th, 2007  

Topic: UK Forces in 'Proxy War with Iran'

September 06, 2007

British forces have been engaged in a "proxy war with Iran" in the south of Iraq, the officer who planned this week's withdrawal from Basra Palace said.

Lt Col Patrick Sanders, commanding officer of the battlegroup which pulled out to an airbase outside the city, said there had been a "lull" in violence in recent months but insisted his men were ready and able to go back into Basra if they were needed to support Iraqi security forces.

He dismissed as "complete nonsense" suggestions that Monday's pullout amounted to a defeat for British forces and insisted that the UK's presence in Iraq was still useful to the local authorities.

But he suggested that the move from Basra Palace to the UK's last Iraqi stronghold at Basra Air Station marked "the beginning of the end" of Britain's four-year involvement in the country, which began with the US-led invasion in 2003.

Col Sanders acknowledged that the Iraq war was "unpopular" among the British public and said that debate about the UK's possible final withdrawal represented a potential threat to his men's morale.

Asked if he believed Britain's military presence still played a useful role, Col Sanders told BBC Radio 4's Today: "Yes I do. We give the Iraqi security forces a degree of confidence. We bring military capabilities that they simply don't have.

"For the time being we are not there yet, there is still quite a significant threat from the militias. We are engaged - or we have been engaged - effectively in a proxy war with Iran and if that resumes then they will need us to help."

Col Sanders made clear he expected Britain's presence in Iraq to continue beyond this autumn. "I don't have any idea how long the UK will be engaged in Iraq," he said. "I think probably as long as necessary.

"We are not necessarily in the endgame, but perhaps - to paraphrase Churchill - it is the beginning of the end."
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September 7th, 2007  
It's Iran We're Fighting, Says Basra Commander

September 06, 2007
David Blair

British forces in southern Iraq have been fighting a "proxy war" against Iran, the commander of the troops who withdrew from Basra Palace has said. While the Army has frequently accused Iran of stirring violence across southern Iraq by arming Shia militias, no officer has been as blunt as Lt Col Patrick Sanders, commander of 4th Battalion The Rifles.

He told the BBC that 5,500 British soldiers still based at Basra Airport could return to the city if called upon by Iraq's newly trained security forces.

This may happen if Iraq's army needs help against Basra's Shia militias – who Britain accuses Iran of arming and training.

"We are engaged, or we have been engaged, effectively in a proxy war with Iran and if that resumes then they (Iraq's security forces) will need us to help," Lt Col Sanders said.

He added that Basra was benefiting from a "lull in violence" and his troops had carried out a smooth and bloodless withdrawal from the palace in the city's centre.

This took place in cooperation with Iraq's British-trained forces and after talks with the Shia militias.

"There was a lot of potential for some quite serious violence and attacks on us. I'm delighted that it passed off without incident," Lt Col Sanders said.

In July alone, Shia militias fired 750 mortar bombs at the British base in Basra palace.

Of all the armed groups faced by British forces in southern Iraq, the Jaish al-Mahdi, or Army of the Mahdi, led by the radical cleric, Moqtada al-Sadr, was judged to be the most dangerous.

But Lt Col Sanders said it was "complete nonsense" to suggest that his troops had been defeated.

"The militias, and the Jaish al-Mahdi in particular, have thrown just about everything they have got at us. They have been unable to engage us in open fighting. We have been able to patrol around the city at will, on foot and in vehicles, any place or time of our choosing," he said.

"It's been dangerous, and the level of violence that we have been engaged in and the casualties we have suffered are testament to that. But the notion that this is a defeat is nonsense."

British forces still hold overall responsibility for security in Basra province. But their primary task is now "overwatch", not combat.

They will stand ready to assist local security forces, continue training Iraqi soldiers and protect the essential supply route linking American forces in the centre of the country with their depots in Kuwait.

Lt Col Sanders said their base at Basra Airport was not nearly as vulnerable as their old positions in the Palace.

"Basra is quiet and stable at the moment and it augurs well for the future. The militias are talking to each other and they are talking to the Iraqi security force leadership. That is all encouraging," he said.

Lt Col Sanders's troops are due to leave Iraq in late November and early December. He said they would be replaced, indicating that Britain's military presence will continue into 2008.
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September 7th, 2007  
A Can of Man
No more fried chicken in Basra.
September 11th, 2007  
Originally Posted by the_13th_redneck
No more fried chicken in Basra.
Too easy. No points for you.
September 11th, 2007  
A Can of Man
Damn it all to hell!
September 11th, 2007  
Del Boy
Political decisions concern me ; will Gordon Brown talk big but start running? I think that Afghanistan is an even bigger problem for the Brits, with an enemy free to pick off targets at leisure and disappear into the Pakistan borders. Surely these boys are on a hiding to nothing long term. New strategies required here.

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