Frederick Kagan, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and one of the architects of the ‘surge’ in Iraq, has long been critical of the British role in Basra. In a telephone conversation with the Sunday Telegraph over the weekend, he had this to say about the British contribution to the current offensive against Sadrist militias:
“It’s very clear that the Maliki government has launched a major offensive against Iranian-backed special groups and militias. The Iraqi security forces are in the lead and we are backing them up.
“It’s a good fight that they’re fighting. It’s a very important fight and I think we should be prepared to support them fully. And by ‘we’ I mean the entire coalition.”
“The British military in Basra has said it is in a position of strategic overwatch. That means that they expect the Iraqis to take the lead in security operations and that British forces are there to provide back-up and support in case the Iraqis encounter something that is beyond their means.
“It is pretty to apparent to me – and just about anyone else I have spoken to – who looks at this that the clearing of Basra is going to be beyond the means of the Iraqi security forces.
“So it’s a little bit hard to understand in that context, if the British military really means that it is in a strategic overwatch posture, how they would reject supporting the ISF in what is after all the decisive fight in their area of operations.
“The Iraqis have made the decision to do something at this point in time, [and it] is vitally in the interests of both the United States of America and Great Britain that the elements in Iraq which have been the agents of direct Iranian military intervention be defeated.
“This is not something that we’re doing because we like the Iraqis. It is not in our interests – for either state – for the Iranians to continue this intervention in Iraq’s military affairs.
“It is rather a watershed moment in the Anglo-American alliance. I understand that your prime minister has already said that the special relationship is over. This is another watershed moment. There’s an issue of special relationship. There’s an issue here of fulfilling your obligations as an ally, freely undertaken.
“If Britain has responsibility for that area of operations, which it does, then British forces have an obligation to step up when needed and it sure looks here like they’re needed.”