Anglo-American special relationship sours over Iraq
19 Aug 2007, 2243 hrs IST,Rashmee Roshan Lall,TNN
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LONDON: Britain's special relationship with the US, forged and strengthened in the four-year cauldron of invaded-and-occupied Iraq, may be falling apart with the Americans now openly scoffing at the UK's famed counter-insurgency expertise and London fearing a "Saigon moment" as it considers a protracted and ignominious withdrawal from Basra.
Speculation that the new UK prime minister Gordon Brown is determined to cut loose from President Bush's Iraq strategy and draw down his 5,500 troops in Iraq as soon as possible, is now mixed in with reports of a new crisis in Anglo-American military relations.
According to British reports, senior American military officers are no longer in a mood to listen to British boasts of superiority in counter-insurgency, in a new season of bad-tempered coalition colluding in Iraq.
Britain's new prime minister Brown visited the US earlier this month and delivered a blunt, "frank" message to President Bush insisting he planned to see most of Britain's 5,500 troops gone from Iraq next year.
The British decision to leave Iraq - and the Americans to fight on by themselves – is understood to have soured relations.
Reports say America's top commanders in Iraq have been "rolling their eyeballs" at the advice and opinions of Britain's senior officer in Basra, Major General Jonathan Shaw.
This is a far cry from the early American hosannas for British military skills, back in March 2003, when the Anglo-American coalition invaded Iraq and the British were famously said to have conquered Basra and southern Iraq's badlands with berets and boiled sweets rather than bullets and bombs.
But six weeks after Bush's chief European ally, Tony Blair, stepped aside as Britain's prime minister, London is seen to be increasingly disenchanted with Washington and the relationship between the allies is evidently souring.
Britain is already combating predictions of its very own so-called "Saigon moment" when it finally withdraws from Iraq, with at least one senior US military adviser warning the British "flight" will be ugly and embarrassing.
In September, the British will pull back from their last base in Basra, Saddam Hussein's old summer palace, but London is overly anxious the gradual retreat is not portrayed as a defeat. But the Americans appear not to be cooperating with Britain's last wishes to keep its dignity as it withdraws from Iraq. Instead, the Americans have let it be known that the UK's fabled expertise in counter-insurgency, notably in Northern Ireland, has failed in south-eastern Iraq.
Amid relentless reports that British troops in Basra are under constant rocket fire from the Iranian-backed Mahdi Army and with an average of 40 attacks a week hitting the British base at Basra airport, the Americans are casting scorn on the UK's insistence its Iraq operations have been a success.
Even as prime minister Brown tries to convey a quiet process of handover to Iraqi troops in Basra, senior American military commanders have been deriding the British for preparing to "cut and run", leaving behind a city allegedly in the grip of a power struggle between Shia militias that could determine the fate of the Iraqi government and the country as a whole.
At least one unnamed senior American officer has been quoted to say the British withdrawal is seen in the US as "the Brits having lost Basra, if indeed they ever had it. Britain is in a difficult spot because of the lack of political support at home, but for a long time - more than a year - they have not been engaged in Basra and have tried to avoid casualties. They did not have enough troops there even before they started cutting back. The situation is beyond their control. Quite frankly what they're doing right now is not any value-added. They're just sitting there. They're not involved. The situation there gets worse by the day. Americans are disappointed because, in their minds, this thing is still winnable. They don't intend to cut and run."
With Britain planning a final withdrawal from Iraq in the next six months, UK commanders are said to be concerned that a simultaneous American surge of 7,000 troops in the south of Iraq will add to the impression of British failure.