October 15, 2006

Iraq: British Army Chief Speaks Out

On October 13, the head of the British Army made some remarks that have caused quite a stir in the United Kingdom and the United States. General Sir Richard Dannant, newly appointed chief of British army general staff (BBC profile), stated that the presence of British troops in Iraq was exacerbating the insurgency in Iraq and problems around the world, and that the troops should be withdrawn "soon." He went on to say that the effort to bring democracy to Iraq may be naive. "I don't think we are going to do that. I think we should aim for a lower ambition," he said.

Fine, Sir Richard. Many in your country and army agree with you. Many in the United States feel the same. While some view your candor as refreshing - candid remarks from not just a serving officer, but the chief of the British army - you may have put your troops in greater danger.

I am sure that was not your intent, but your words were picked up immediately by the Iraqi insurgent website Press Release (read the article), "...lies and media tricks prove the critical situation of the crusader alliance in al-Rafidayn land [Mesopotamia] , especially after the calls of leaving Iraq announced by the British army - the principal ally in the crusader alliance - , which is a threat for the alliance contract . The whole world – by Allah willing- will hear soon about good news...."

If I were the leader of the insurgency or a militia group that wanted to create greater problems, I would now focus my attacks on the remaining 7,000 British soldiers in southern Iraq. The insurgents sense a weakness - they are bound to exploit it.

Evidently, Sir Richard's remarks struck a raw nerve among his superiors. He later backtracked significantly (General Dannant statement October 13):

"We have been in Southern Iraq for three and a half years and we have made significant progress, with two of the four provinces now handed over to Iraqi control and our responsibilities are much reduced in one other province. The point that I'm trying to make is the mere fact that we are still in some places exacerbates violence from those who want to destabilise Iraqi democracy.

"Currently Operation Sinbad is trying to make Basra better and a lot of British soldiers are doing a really good job. In that regard, their presence is helping but there are other parts where our mere presence does exacerbate and violence results.

"But that is not a reason for us to leave. I am on record publicly saying we're standing shoulder to shoulder with the Americans. I am on the record from a speech three weeks ago saying that I'm planning force packages in Iraq through 2007 in to 2008. I'm a soldier - we don't do surrender, we don't pull down white flags. We will remain in southern Iraq until the job is done – we're going to see this through."

Fine, but the genie is out of the bottle, the damage is done.