Britain to Scale Back Iraq Troops British Prime Minister Tony Blair has announced a pullback of British troops serving in Iraq. Blair plans to bring home about 1,600 troops in the next few months, a reduction of about one-fifth of the British forces serving there.
NPR logo

Britain to Scale Back Iraq Troops

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Britain to Scale Back Iraq Troops

Britain to Scale Back Iraq Troops

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


This is DAY TO DAY, I'm Madeleine Brand.


I'm Alex Chadwick.

Coming up, something is killing one of Australia's most famous creatures.

Unidentified man: Tasmanian devils from the first sign of the disease to death is typically five to six months and in all cases so far it's found to be fatal.

CHADWICK: A strange cancer that's wiping out Tasmanian devils by the tens of thousands. More on that just ahead.

BRAND: But first, the coalition fighting alongside the United States in Iraq is shrinking. British Prime Minister Tony Blair says he'll bring about 1,600 troops home in the next few months. That's about a fifth of British forces now serving in Iraq. And most are in southern Iraq, around Basra.

To find out how that part of the country is doing and whether withdrawing British troops is a good idea, we're joined by Anthony Cordesman. He's a national security analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

And welcome to the program.

Mr. ANTHONY CORDESMAN (Center for Strategic and International Studies, Washington, D.C.): Thank you.

BRAND: Well, Prime Minister Blair says it's time to start handing over Basra to the Iraqis. At the same time, he cautioned that Basra is not how we want it to be. How is Basra?

Mr. CORDESMAN: Well, the reality is that the British were no more prepared for nation building and stability operations in Iraq than we were. As a matter of fact, when they originally planned to go in, it was to come in through Turkey.

And almost from the start they ran into major problems. There was looting. The government broke down. There was the same disintegration of the Baath, of the secular elements in the southeast that there was in the rest of the country. Very quickly they ran up against problems with tribal groupings and they saw Shiite Islamist groups take over.

Really by late 2004, they'd been able to win some military encounters against the Sadrists, but the truth is, they'd already lost political control of the entire southeast and the four provinces there to a splintered group of Shiite extremists. That was confirmed in the elections in January 2005. And in spite of various military efforts, the situation became worse again with the elections in 2006.

Effectively they've already given up control of most of the provinces they occupied. They've sort of gone down to an effort where the most they're really trying to do is to bring some kind of stability to the police forces in Basra, and that effort has largely failed. It has brought very limited security and some improvement to the police in Basra, but at the cost of more and more military resistance against the British and the British giving up the rest of the area.

So what we're really, in many ways seeing, is the British leaving an area where they've been defeated. Where essentially the entire, sort of, provinces - four provinces in the south - are under the control of various Shiite parties and many of them splinter groups, which are more extreme than the Shiite political parties in the government.

BRAND: Well, of course Prime Minister Blair, in his speech today, painted a much rosier picture. He says the situation in Basra is very different from Baghdad. There is no Sunni insurgency, there is no al-Qaida base, and there is little Shia on Sunni violence.

But you're saying that's because, in effect, it's controlled by the Shiite militias?

Mr. CORDESMAN: That's exactly right. And what he's saying, frankly, isn't true. I mean, one of the problems we have in a lot of the reporting here, is people are confusing killings with violence. But a lot of the ethnic and sectarian cleansing is kidnappings, it's disappearances, it's threats, it's intimidations. It's the seizure of property. This is a battle for political and economic space and Shiites don't care whether people are killed, as long as they leave.

BRAND: Well, do you see this at all as a foreshadowing if the United States pulls out its troops from Baghdad and other parts of the country?

Mr. CORDESMAN: Well, one of the problems we really have is, that in theory, we have a new Bush strategy. But the Bush strategy hasn't explained what happens if we actually secure Baghdad. So rather than having a strategy that brings some kind of national unity or conciliation, we have a strategy for winning in Baghdad in ways which further empower a Shiite-dominated central government.

We really, until we hear a much broader picture of what the Bush administration is trying to accomplish, seem to see something of a mirror image. The British effectively gave the Shiites power in the southeast. The U.S. may be doing that in Baghdad.

BRAND: Anthony Cordesman, thank you very much.

Mr. CORDESMAN: Thank you.

BRAND: Anthony Cordesman is with the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington

(Soundbite of music)

BRAND: More coming up on DAY TO DAY from NPR News.

Copyright © 2007 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.