Belfast Telegraph

Friday 26 December 2014

The man left to pick up the pieces in Basra

For a man carrying so many expectations on his shoulders, General Mohan al-Furayji was remarkably sanguine at the ceremony which marked the takeover of Basra Palace from British troops.

It was General Mohan who declared there was no longer any need for UK forces to stay in their last remaining base in the city, and by staying they were simply inciting violence. He is also the man credited with organising the truce with the Shia militias which has seen violence fall dramatically and enable UK forces to withdraw from the palace with minimal casualties.



General Mohan, the Iraqi commander sent from Baghdad by the Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, is in charge of all security forces in southern Iraq as Britain forces gather at their last post at Basra airport and prepare to leave within months.



His name is almost a mantra among British officials in London and Basra as well as a lot of prominent Iraqis. "General Mohan will sort this out," one hears, or "General Mohan has decided this." The commander is being perceived, and presented, as the man of the hour, someone capable of confronting any breakdown of law and order when the UK ends its involvement in the country.



General Mohan is regarded as broadly secular in the internecine sectarian strife, and, somewhat rarely among public figures here, it is claimed that he is relatively untainted by accusations of corruption.



In preparation for their departure, British officials have professed confidence in the Iraqi forces replacing them. General Mohan, however, had a much more brutal assessment of some of those under his command.



"The police are one of the biggest problems around here", he said. "Some of them have loyalties to groups and individuals instead of the country. It has happened like this because the US and Britain created the police force very hurriedly after the fall of Saddam. People from different parties joined and at the time their loyalties were not checked out, maybe there was not time. But that is what we are going to do now."



So is he going to sack many of them? " Yes, absolutely". With no favours given? "No, I am not from Basra, I do not owe anyone anything down here".



Wednesday saw the official ceremony to mark the handover of Basra Palace by the UK to Iraqi control. The US has claimed that Britain has "lost" the south and American troops may have to be sent to fill the "vacuum" that the withdrawal will create. The response from the exasperated British had been unusually robust and they have resisted American pressure further to postpone the pullout from Basra palace.



Surrounded by the debris of a lavish lunch, General Mohan, a short and powerfully built man with an easy smile, praised the British military for the training they had given to the Iraqi forces and the way they had behaved. Then, unprompted, he criticised the US and UK for the failure to rebuild the shattered infrastructure of the country and provide employment.



"If enough had been done to create jobs for the young men then we would not have the situation we have now with the militias. I don't think the British and the Americans have done enough. The militias have exploited the lack of money among the young. I have interviewed people who carried out murders for $500, serious criminal acts for $15. That is how cheap violence and human life has become in this country."



He Mahon also criticised the Americans. "What we saw at Abu Ghraib, the pictures, was shocking. We did not expect this of a country which says it is the land of liberty, believes in freedom".



The commander, who has five children, has his own grim memories of Abu Ghraib where he was imprisoned for 11 months by Saddam's regime in the mid- 1990s. Torture was routine, he said, and immensely damaging.



"I haven't allowed that in my force to the best of my ability. I know that is easy to say, but I try to be in charge of specific investigations," he insisted. "At the end torture is pointless, people will confess to anything to avoid further pain. I know I did. All I asked in return was to get a message to my family saying how much I cared for them before I died".



The commander's favourite phrase, said a British officer, is "Don't tell me what you are going to do, show me what you have done". That is likely to be the rule which is applied to General Mohan after such a high profile entrance into the uncertain future of Basra.

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