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10/19/2004

British Redeployment Controversy

The British are still roiled in a debate over the US request that the British redeploy some of their troops around Baghdad, to replace US forces that will focus on Fallujah in the run-up to the Iraqi elections. The British are concerned both that the redeployment is designed to benefit President Bush's reelection and that their "troops could become associated in Iraqi minds with US methods." [NB: quote is from Robin Cook] Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon is trying to reassure the British public that the move has a "very clear operational justification," but there is widespread distrust of US motives:

But most anger was felt on Labour's backbenches, with Glenda Jackson MP accusing the government of providing "mercenaries for a Republican army".

Bolsover MP Dennis Skinner said the government was handing President Bush a "lifeline" and an "oxygen cylinder" by freeing up American troops for a pre-election offensive.
Not just backbenchers are balking:
The criticism came not just from the war's long-standing critics, but from several of Blair's most ardent Labor Party loyalists. They contended that their leader is being dragged into a Vietnam-style quagmire by his close ally, President Bush.

"The United Kingdom has given 110 percent on this issue, and some of us have provided political cover and support for this government," said Andrew Mackinlay, a Blair supporter. He warned the government "not to try to stretch the envelope too much. . . . Some of us will not stomach it."

Gerald Kaufman, another Labor loyalist, raised "the possibility of United Kingdom forces risking their lives being exploited politically in a closely fought United States election."
Blair himself has had to deny an ulterior political motive. On Sunday, "thousands" marched in London to protest the war.

It looks like the British will agree to the redeployment, but Foreign Secretary Jack Straw says that the final determination won't be made until Thursday, after British troops have reconnoitered the area.

Regardless of the outcome, it is clear that Bush has failed the "global test."

Update, 10/20/04, 8:35 AM EST: 45 anti-war Labor MPs are calling for a Commons vote on the redeployment.

Update, 10/21/04, 12:37 PM EST: Reuters has more on the 45 Labor MPs that want a vote on the redeployment:
Some media reports say the soldiers will see action in days, others that the move will now be delayed until after the U.S. election in order to assuage doubts at home.

Blair insisted there was no political calculation, only a military one. "The recommendation will come from our military and on the basis of that recommendation a final decision will be made," he said.

No decision is likely before a cabinet meeting Thursday and it could take longer.

Either way, Blair faces real disquiet within his Labor party, not just from those who did not support war in the first place, but from many who now regret their decision to vote for it.

"Doesn't the prime minister believe the hole he has dug over Iraq is big enough ..," asked Labor parliamentarian Marsha Singh. "Isn't it high time we stopped digging?"

Blair rejected his call. "What we have to do is stand firm and see it through and we will," he said. "We have to create the conditions in which fair elections ... can take place."

Singh is far from alone. A group of 45 Labor parliamentarians has signed a motion demanding a vote on the U.S. request.

General John McColl, the top British officer in Iraq, has said no decision to deploy the troops had yet been taken.

A UK reconnaissance team was on the ground this week studying the prospects for UK troops moving north from their relatively calm southern Basra base.

"We have had an initial report but we are awaiting a full report. There would be no question of a decision being taken in advance of that recce (reconnaissance) being done," McColl told BBC Radio.
It is extraordinarily disquieting that our most faithful ally trusts us so little. AP and AFP had similar stories.

Nonetheless, it looks like the Brits will redeploy. Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon, apparently after looking at the recon, says GBR will accede to the US request:
"After careful evaluation, the chiefs of staff have advised me that UK forces are able to undertake the proposed operation, that there is a compelling military operational justification for doing so, and that it entails a militarily acceptable level of risk for UK forces," Mr Hoon said.
The Guardian confirms.

 

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