Asharq al-Awsat: British Ambassador in Baghdad Christopher Prentice said that preliminary meetings began with the Iraqi government with the aim of signing a second security agreement between the two countries.
By Naseer Al-Ily
Baghdad, Asharq Al-Awsat- British Ambassador in Baghdad Christopher Prentice said that preliminary meetings began with the Iraqi government with the aim of signing a second security agreement between the two countries. He explained that it will be a limited agreement intended to determine some training tasks after his country's forces withdraw. He added that the British government does not contemplate the establishment of British bases in Iraq.
In an interview which Asharq Al-Awsat conducted with him in his office in Baghdad, Prentice said the history of the Iranian-Iraqi relations "is disappointing, particularly in the past years, because Iran's behavior has been very negative, especially in southern Iraq in general".
Prentice said: "Before I took up my post in Baghdad, I was completely convinced that my job in this country would be fruitful and interesting."
He added: "I have been here for over one year and a half and noticed that great progress was made in this period. On the other hand, our embassy's work has developed and diversified, and we currently focus on developing a comprehensive partnership and wide ranging relations with Iraq. At the same time, we focus less on the military aspect and the coalition forces' role."
Asked what the size of the British military, political, and diplomatic representation in Iraq will be after the withdrawal of his country's forces, which is scheduled on July, Prentice said: "I am very proud of the current development in security and of our military role in Iraq as part of the coalition forces."
He added: "The main aim behind our forces' current presence in Iraq is to reform and train the Iraqi armed forces to enable them to be fully in charge in their country and in Basra and southern Iraq in general, where our operations centre was based in the past."
Prentice said: "The transfer of responsibility for the security situation to the Iraqi forces in December 2007 was an important turning point in the change of our relationship and role and the Iraqi forces' readiness to control the security situation, especially following Operation Knight Assault, which was carried out a year ago."
He added: "This operation, which was led by the Iraqi prime minister with assistance from the coalition forces, was a transition in security for the country as a whole, not just southern Iraq. After this operation, the militias' influence and control receded, and the Iraqis' hope revived. Also, the Iraqis became more confident in their government and forces and more convinced of the need to achieve economic, social, and political progress."
He continued: "I regard this as an important transition in Iraq's modern history. We feel proud of the fact that the forces, which we trained in the south, are now in control of security. With our help, they managed to completely restore security."
Asked whether permanent British military bases would be established after the withdrawal, the British ambassador said: "We have not thought of establishing permanent bases in Iraq at all, and our forces' withdrawal from Basra in the next few months will take place under an agreement."
He added: "Nevertheless, we need a second agreement to organize the stay of part of our forces whose mission will be training. Under such an agreement, we will organize advanced-level training courses for naval forces and officers."
He continued: "Our military role will be limited to training, technical support, and any task acceptable to the Iraqi side. After the withdrawal, there will be no permanent British military units or military presence in Iraq. There will be only British training. In this respect, therefore, our future relationship with Iraq will be normal, like our relations with other states in the region."
Commenting on the second security agreement, Prentice said: "The current agreement gives us the legal basis and a role for a limited period of time ending in July this year. Afterward, we will need a second agreement with the Iraqi Government, and we will conduct fast preliminary negotiations with the Iraqi side on it."
He explained: "It will be an easy and simple agreement, unlike the Iraqi-US agreement. Rather, it will be similar to a memorandum of understanding between the two sides."
On a separate issue, Prentice called on Tehran to rethink its policy towards Iraq. He said: "I hope that Iran will play a positive role towards Iraq in the future, because Iraq and Iran are neighbors and the relations between them must be fruitful and based on the principle of mutual respect and equality."
He added: "The history of Iran's behavior in Iraq, particularly in the past years, has been disappointing. The reason is that the Iranian behavior was very negative, especially in southern Iraq in general, where Iran encouraged the establishment of militias and funded and armed these militias."
He continued: "Now, however, I believe that Iran must reconsider these actions because they affect Iran's reputation, especially among the Iraqi Shi'is. The Iraqi Shi'is might admit that these policies are negative and that they contravene Iran's long-term interests in Iraq."
Turning to the future of the Basra city, Prentice said: "Basra residents have an opportunity to develop their city and make it an outstanding place in the Gulf. I am optimistic that Basra will become the Gulf's Venice or a second Dubai."
He added: "Neither Iran, nor any other force has any opportunity to prevent this development, because the Basrans are able to develop their bright future and to have a bright vision."