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Black Watch = Injury & Death

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Deeper into the Iraqi quagmire


British troops will now be tarred by association with US methods


Robin Cook

Friday October 22, 2004

The Guardian


When they come to write the history of the Iraq adventure, the decision to deploy British troops to the US sector may be seen as the tipping point at which the patience finally snapped of many of those who had hitherto given Tony Blair the benefit of the doubt. In the corridors of Westminster it was a common experience to find backbenchers who, for the past two years had grimly defended the official line, expressing incomprehension that they were being asked to march further into the quagmire.

We are assured that this latest debacle was not thought up by the politicians in Whitehall, but was all the work of the military in Iraq. But that does not explain why the politicians did not stamp on the nonsense the moment it reached the ministerial floor. Indeed, the truly disturbing insult from this week's events is the discovery that the political antennae of Downing Street have become so blunted that they were surprised by the strength of a reaction that was entirely predictable.


Labour loyalists have been pleading for Iraq to be allowed to slip out of the headlines to leave space to be filled by Labour's domestic agenda. Much of the fury of the past week is that their own government should have come up with a wheeze that has put booster-rockets on the Iraq story and propelled it to the top of the bulletins.


Instead of producing an exit strategy that would hold out the hope of British troops getting out of Iraq, ministers are going to push them even deeper into the insurgent territory. This is the precise opposite of what Labour supporters had hoped to hear in the countdown to an election.


The redeployment also touches the public where it has become most neuralgic about our involvement in Iraq. They cannot shake off the suspicion that we sent a third of the British army into Iraq not in pursuit of our own national interests but in support of the White House's political agenda. This latest twist to the tale confirms the perception that it is Washington that calls the shots and Britain that jumps to attention. Whether the request came first on political or military channels, it is undeniable that the initiative for the movement of our troops came from the US.


It is equally obvious that the request was the product of US politics. It may be the case that when General George Casey lifted the phone to call his opposite number on the British side it never occurred to him that there could be a political bonus to George Bush. But he was driven to ring Britain rather than the Pentagon because of US political imperatives. The most damaging criticism of Donald Rumsfeld is that he overrode the worries of his own chiefs of staff, who warned him that he was attempting to occupy Iraq with too few troops. It therefore was not a practical option for General Casey to ring home to ask for more US troops to be sent to Iraq, and confirm in the closing stages of a presidential election that Rumsfeld had got it wrong.


A large part of the problem is not that the US does not have enough troops but that it does not have any troops trained in peacekeeping. They have brought their military culture of overwhelming force to Iraq and have met any resistance with escalation. Most of the current resentment of the occupation is provoked by the heavy-handed military tactics of US forces and their implicit assumption that every Iraqi is a potential enemy.


An inescapable consequence of the decision to embed British troops in the US sector is that our forces will become tarred by association with US methods and held responsible for the civilian casualties that result. This danger is all the more acute as the stated purpose of redeployment is to free up US forces for an all-out assault on Falluja. The most disappointing feature of the past week is that no one in government appears to have asked whether it makes sense to facilitate a second siege of Falluja.


The last time the US marine corps attempted it they left behind several hundred civilian dead and uproar across Iraq at the treatment of the residents of Falluja. If they now repeat that level of violence, US forces will not exterminate the resistance but fuel hostility to their occupation. It is a strategy that could only be endorsed by those who can keep the faith that there is a military solution because they labour under the delusion that the insurgents are only a few thousand international terrorists.


Repeatedly this week, we have been lectured on the importance of proving ourselves good, sound allies. Fine. But solidarity should be a two-way street. Ministers should not have agreed to commit British troops to enable an offensive on Falluja unless our US allies at last agreed to minimise civilian casualties for which Britain will now also be held responsible.



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RE: Black Watch = Injury & Death


Last week the annoucement that the Black Watch will take over Babil Province. Sunday this report in the New York Times:



Huge Cache of Explosives Vanished From Site in Iraq




BAGHDAD, Iraq, Oct. 24 - The Iraqi interim government has warned the United States and international nuclear inspectors that nearly 380 tons of powerful conventional explosives - used to demolish buildings, produce missile warheads and detonate nuclear weapons - are missing from one of Iraq's most sensitive former military installations.


The huge facility, called Al Qaqaa, was supposed to be under American military control but is now a no-man's land, still picked over by looters as recently as Sunday. United Nations weapons inspectors had monitored the explosives for many years, but White House and Pentagon officials acknowledge that the explosives vanished after the American invasion last year.


The White House said President Bush's national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, was informed within the past month that the explosives were missing. It is unclear whether President Bush was informed. American officials have never publicly announced the disappearance, but beginning last week they answered questions about it posed by The New York Times and the CBS News program "60 Minutes."


Administration officials said yesterday that the Iraq Survey Group, the C.I.A. task force that searched for unconventional weapons, has been ordered to investigate the disappearance of the explosives.


American weapons experts say their immediate concern is that the explosives could be used in major bombing attacks against American or Iraqi forces: the explosives, mainly HMX and RDX, could be used to produce bombs strong enough to shatter airplanes or tear apart buildings. The bomb that brought down Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988 used less than a pound of the material of the type stolen from Al Qaqaa, and somewhat larger amounts were apparently used in the bombing of a housing complex in November 2003 in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, and the blasts in a Moscow apartment complex in September 1999 that killed nearly 300 people.





Al Qaqaa is in Babil Province.

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