Monday, October 18, 2004

We're here, because we're here, because we're here

It now seems that the US authorities in Iraq are serious in their request for more British troops. We are told that the 1st Battalion the Black Watch is to be sent north to the Iskandariyah area in order to relieve US Marines for an offensive against Fallujah. For a start, the Watch are getting the shitty end of the stick. They are already on their second tour of Iraq, and have been repeatedly told in the last few weeks that they are soon to return to the UK. I have been informed that they have been placed on notice to move, supposedly to return home, and that they were told their advance party was to leave for Warminster "within weeks". Now they are to extend again, with the prospect of a tougher assignment.

In the background to this, there may well be a significant conflict between the deputy supreme commander of the coalition forces, General John McColl, also the senior British officer in Iraq and a peacekeeping/low intensity warfare expert who led the first ISAF in Kabul, and the US Central Command. US "sources" have recently been quoted by the press using phrases like "institutional cowardice" and "sitting pretty in Basra". This reflects a significant reality gap. As previously reported, it gets less and less accurate to describe the South Eastern zone as a quiet front. In the last two months, British units there have experienced their most severe and sustained fighting since Korea. The 1 PWRR in Amara went through 23 days of constant combat in late August. Even the Shaibah logistics base has been regularly attacked. If the US officers feel that we are not being sufficiently tough, they ought to consider the results of their own tactics. Since April and the first Shia uprising, they have had no significant control of the whole area between the retaken Shia towns and Baghdad, nor of the so-called Sunni triangle, nor even of some parts of central Baghdad. This is even more significant in terms of population control, as the vast majority of Iraqis live there - Sadr City alone makes up 10% of the population. The Multinational Division SE has substantially fewer troops than the British Army in Northern Ireland had in the worst years, dealing with a far less dangerous situation and a far smaller population.

The Iskandariyah area is part of this security vacuum. Iraqi police or National Guards have been absent since the spring. It has a reputation as a place where the enemy test new types of car bombs. This new deployment will be into a very tough environment, which will only get tougher when the assault of Fallujah begins. The unit involved is currently the MNDSE divisional reserve - so, it seems, the rest of MNDSE will have to face a fresh eruption of rage without reserves.

[Unfounded Speculation]I do hope the Americans are not trying to finish off Fallujah and then shut off the campaign before the election. October surprise anyone?[/Speculation] More seriously, I doubt that a second siege of Fallujah could be brought to a successful conclusion quickly. The temptation will be there, if the election approaches and the battle is still going on, to call off the operation. And I suppose the Watch will not have this option in coping with the eruption.

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