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Generals criticise Basra pull-out

The controversial pull-out of British forces from Basra in southern Iraq has come under fresh criticism from UK and US generals.

Retired American commanders said the withdrawal of troops from central Basra Palace to a large military base at the airport outside the city was a "defeat" that left local people to be "terrorised" by militias.

One of the most senior UK officers to serve in Iraq, former Lieutenant General Sir Robert Fry, said: "The Americans decided to win. We decided to leave."

The comments, made in a new BBC Two documentary, revive debate about whether the British pull-out from Basra city in September 2007 was a prudent tactical move or a humiliating retreat.

The UK general who paved the way for the withdrawal said he was constrained by the conflicting approaches to the war coming out of London and Washington.

Major General Jonathan Shaw, who commanded coalition forces in southern Iraq from January to August 2007, told the programme: "I think the biggest problem was the political problem.

"There was America surging, there was Britain reducing force levels. Our political leaderships were moving in different directions and that was extremely awkward."

He also referred to the secret negotiations he held with leaders of the Mahdi Army militia in Basra, which critics say led to the city being handed over to militants in exchange for the safe passage of UK troops back to the base at the airport.

Basra Palace was coming under more mortar and rocket attacks than anywhere else in Iraq by the time the 550 British soldiers based there were pulled out.

In a reference to the 1836 siege of the Alamo in Texas, which ended in the defenders being overrun, Maj Gen Shaw said: "You play the cards you get at the time. We knew we had to somehow get out."


From Belfast Telegraph