Press Association: British forces have been engaged in a “proxy war with Iran” in the south of Iraq, the officer who planned this week’s withdrawal from Basra Palace said. The Press Association
British forces have been engaged in a “proxy war with Iran” in the south of Iraq, the officer who planned this week’s withdrawal from Basra Palace said.
Lt Col Patrick Sanders, commanding officer of the battlegroup which pulled out to an airbase outside the city, said there had been a “lull” in violence in recent months but insisted his men were ready and able to go back into Basra if they were needed to support Iraqi security forces.
He dismissed as “complete nonsense” suggestions that Monday’s pullout amounted to a defeat for British forces and insisted that the UK’s presence in Iraq was still useful to the local authorities.
But he suggested that the move from Basra Palace to the UK’s last Iraqi stronghold at Basra Air Station marked “the beginning of the end” of Britain’s four-year involvement in the country, which began with the US-led invasion in 2003.
Col Sanders acknowledged that the Iraq war was “unpopular” among the British public and said that debate about the UK’s possible final withdrawal represented a potential threat to his men’s morale.
Asked if he believed Britain’s military presence still played a useful role, Col Sanders told BBC Radio 4’s Today: “Yes I do. We give the Iraqi security forces a degree of confidence. We bring military capabilities that they simply don’t have.
“For the time being we are not there yet, there is still quite a significant threat from the militias. We are engaged – or we have been engaged – effectively in a proxy war with Iran and if that resumes then they will need us to help.”
Col Sanders made clear he expected Britain’s presence in Iraq to continue beyond this autumn. “I don’t have any idea how long the UK will be engaged in Iraq,” he said. “I think probably as long as necessary.
“We are not necessarily in the endgame, but perhaps – to paraphrase Churchill – it is the beginning of the end.”