Goats and Hussars: A British Harbinger of American Defeat
By Chris Floyd, TO UK Correspondant
t r u t h o u t | Perspective
Thursday 31 August 2006
Don Rumsfeld is fond of historical analogies when pontificating about
Iraq; he particularly favors comparisons to the Nazi era and the Allied
occupation of Germany after World War II. Unfortunately, any historian
will tell you that Rummy's parallels are invariably false, even
ludicrous. So we thought we'd give the beleaguered Pentagon warlord a
more accurate and telling analogy to chew on.
Try this one, Don. Imagine that British occupation troops in, say,
Hanover, had been forced to abandon a major base, under fire, and retreat
into guerrilla operations in the Black Forest - in 1948, three years
after the fall of the Nazi regime. And that as soon as the Brits made
their undignified bug-out, the base had been devoured by looters while
the local, Allies-backed authorities simply melted away and an extremist,
virulently anti-Western militia moved into the power vacuum.
What would they have called that, Don? "Measurable progress on the
road to democracy?" "Another achieved metric of our highly successful
post-war plan?" Or would they have said, back in those more plain-spoken,
Harry Truman days, that it was "a major defeat, a humiliating strategic
reversal, foreshadowing a far greater disaster?"
You'd have to wait a long time - perhaps to the end of the "Long War"
- to get a straight answer from Rumsfeld on that one, but this precise
scenario, transposed from Lower Saxony to Maysan province, unfolded in
Iraq last week, when British forces abandoned their base at Abu Naji and
disappeared into the desert wastes and marshes along the Iranian border.
The move was largely ignored by the American media, but the implications
are enormous. The UK contingent of the invading coalition has always been
the proverbial canary in the mine shaft: if they can't make a go of
things in what we've long been told is the "secure south," where friendly
Shiites hold absolute sway, then the entire misbegotten Bush-Blair
enterprise is well and truly FUBAR.
The Queen's Royal Hussars, 1,200-strong, abruptly decamped from the
three-year-old base last Thursday after taking constant mortar and
missile fire for months from those same friendly Shiites. The move was
touted as part of a long-planned, eventual turnover of security in the
region to the Coalition-backed Iraqi central government, but there was
just one problem: the Brits forgot to tell the Iraqis they were checking
out early - and in a hurry.
"British forces evacuated the military headquarters without
coordination with the Iraqi forces," Dhaffar Jabbar, spokesman for the
Maysan governor, told Reuters on Thursday, as looters began moving into
the camp in the wake of the British withdrawal. A unit of Iraqi
government troops mutinied when told to keep order at the base - and
instead attacked a military post of their own army. By Friday, the locals
had torn the place to pieces, carting away more than $500,000 worth of
equipment and fixtures that the British had left behind. After that
initial, ineffectual show of force, the Iraqi "authorities" stepped aside
and watched helplessly as the looters taunted them and cheered the "great
victory" over the Western invaders.
The largely notional - if not fictional - power of the Baghdad
central government simply vanished while the forces of hardline cleric
Moqtada al-Sadr, which already controls the local government, stepped
forward to proclaim its triumph and guide the victory celebrations in the
nearby provincial capital, Amarah. "This is the first city that has
kicked out the occupier!" blared Sadr-supplied loudspeakers to streets
filled with revelers, as the Washington Post noted in a solid - but
deeply buried - story on the retreat.
British officials were understandably a bit sniffy about the
humiliation. First, they denied there was any problem with the handover
at all: the Iraqis had been notified (a whole 24 hours in advance,
apparently), the exchange of authority was brisk and efficient, and the
Iraqis had "secured the base," military spokesman Major Charlie Burbridge
insisted to AP. But when reports of the looting at Abu Naji began pouring
in, British officers simply washed their hands of the nasty business. The
camp was now "the property of the Maysan authorities and Iraqi Forces
[are] in attendance," said Burbridge; therefore, Her Majesty's military
would have no more comment on the matter. In this casual - not to mention
callous - dismissal of the chaos spawned in wake of the Hussars'
departure, we can see in miniature the philosophy now being writ large
across the country in the Bush administration's "Iraqization" policy: "We
broke it; you fix it."
And where are Her Majesty's Hussars now? Six hundred of them have
dispersed into guerrilla bands in the wilderness, where they will survive
on helicopter drops of supplies while they patrol the Iranian border. The
ostensible reason behind this extraordinary operation is two-fold, said
the doughty Burbridge: first, to find out if the Bush administration is
up to its usual mendacious hijinks in claiming that the evildoers in Iran
are fuelling the insurgency among the happily liberated Iraqi people; and
second, to do a little more of that Iraqization window dressing before
finally getting the hell out of Dodge completely, beginning sometime next
year, according to reports across the UK media spectrum.
Of course, the good major didn't put it quite like that. "The
Americans believe there is an inflow of IEDs and weapons across the
border with Iran," he told the Post. "Our first objective is to go and
find out if that is the case. If that is true, we'll be able to disrupt
the flow." The second aim is training Iraqi border guards, he added.
Yes, a few hundred men wandering through the wasteland, dependent on
air-dropped rations, will certainly be able to seal off an almost 300-
mile border riddled with centuries-old smuggling routes. And modern-day
Desert Rats rolling up in bristling Land Rovers to isolated villages
where Shiite clans span both borders will no doubt be gathering a lot of
actionable intelligence from the locals. And of course it is much easier
to "train Iraqi border guards" on the fly in the wild than at a long-
established base with full amenities and, er, training facilities.
In other words, the British move makes no sense - if you accept the
official spin at face value, i.e., that it's an act of careful
deliberation aimed at furthering the Coalition's stated goals of a free,
secure, democratic Iraq. But those in the reality-based community will
see it for what it is: a panicky, patchwork reaction to events and forces
far beyond the Coalition's intentions or control.
The other six hundred Hussars driven out of Abu Naji have retreated
to the main British camp at Basra - another "safe" city that has now
degenerated into a level of violence approaching the hellish chaos of
Baghdad, the Independent reports. British troops who once walked the
streets freely, lightly armed, wearing red berets instead of helmets, are
now largely confined to the base, except for excursions to help Iraqi
government forces in pitched battles against the Shiite militias that
control the city. Harsh religious rule has long descended on the once
freewheeling port city, again presaging the sectarian darkness now
settling heavily across Baghdad.
Just a few months ago, the UK's Ministry of Defence was churning out
"good news" PR stories about life at Abu Naji - such as the whimsical
tale of the troop's pet goat, Ben, a lovable rogue always getting into
scrapes with the regiment's crusty sergeant major, even though the
soldiers "knew he had a soft spot for Ben." The goat, we were told, had
enjoyed visits from such distinguished guests as the Iraqi prime minister
and the Duke of Kent. Now this supposed oasis of British power has been
destroyed, with the Coalition-trained Iraqi troops meant to secure it
either fading into the shadows or actively joining in with the rampaging
crowds and extremist militias. Meanwhile, the Hussars are reducing to
roaming the countryside on vague, pointless, impossible missions, killing
time, killing people - and being killed - until the inevitable collapse
of the whole shebang.
The goat is gone. The canary is dying. The surrender and sack of Abu
Naji is a preview of what's to come, on a much larger scale of death and
chaos, as the bloodsoaked folly of Bush and Blair's war howls toward its
Chris Floyd is an American journalist. His work has appeared in print
and online in venues all over the world, including The Nation,
CounterPunch, Columbia Journalism Review, the Christian Science Monitor,
Il Manifesto, the Moscow Times and many others. He is the author of
Empire Burlesque: High Crimes and Low Comedy in the Bush Imperium, and is
co-founder and editor of the "Empire Burlesque" political blog. He can be
reached at [EMAIL PROTECTED]com.
Grand Forks, ND, US of A
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
"All are lunatics, but he who can analyze his delusion is called a
philosopher." - Ambrose Bierce (1842-1914)
Don't ask about caste or riches but instead ask about conduct. Look
at the flames of a fire. Where do they come from? From a piece of
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person can come from wood of any sort. It is through firmness and
restraint and a sense of truth that one becomes noble, not through
caste. -Sutta Nipata
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