Who decides when we leave Iraq? Not us

The Queen's Speech on 15 November 2006 announcing the government's intentions for the next parliamentary session contained little that was surprising or even interesting, apart perhaps from the note of irony (presumably unintended) in the first sentence of the brief passage on the middle east:

My Government remains committed to peace in the Middle East.  It will continue to work to find a lasting settlement between Israel and the Palestinians, to support the new Iraqi Government in its efforts to build an enduring constitutional settlement, and to assist the Government of Afghanistan.

The British government's enthusiastic participation in the illegal and fraudulently represented attack on and occupation of Iraq in 2003 might be thought a curious manifestation of its continuing commitment to 'peace in the Middle East'.  Still, better late than never. 

More worrying, though, is a striking sentence in the Foreign & Commonwealth Office 'briefing paper' on "Iraq Policy" [pdf], one of a series of briefs published on the prime minister's website as background to each section of the Queen's speech:

Prime Minister Maliki’s government has been in power for less than six months and it faces immense security, political and economic challenges. We will support the government and people of Iraq over the long term. Our aim is to give them every assistance to build democratic structures, build up their own security forces and develop their economy. On the security front, the UK will continue to provide troops for as long as the Iraqi Government wants us to remain. UN Security Council Resolution 1637 authorises our presence. This Resolution expires at the end of December 2006 when we expect a simple rollover will take place. We have no desire to stay in Iraq for longer than is necessary; but nor will we leave before the job is done.  [My emphasis — BLB]

So the decision on when British troops are to be withdrawn from Iraq will depend, not on any judgement by the British government, but on the wishes (and fears) of the ramshackle and deeply divided government of Iraq, whose collapse under the weight of the chaos and anarchy now afflicting the country could well occur at any moment.  Rarely can such a momentous decision, literally a life-and-death issue for our country, have been surrendered to the government of a foreign country whose interests are in many respects diametrically opposed to ours.

It's true that a few days earlier, in her speech to the Royal United Services Institute on 9 November (quoted in an earlier item on this blog), the Foreign & Commonwealth Secretary, Margaret Beckett, had spoken in similar terms:

We will leave when they [the Iraqi government] are confident that they can take the role of security in the country on their own shoulders. 
[My emphasis — BLB]

This might just possibly have been forgiven as sloppy drafting — I understand that Mrs Beckett rarely speaks off the cuff — but the same can't, obviously, be said of a formal briefing paper prepared to assist interpretation of the Queen's Speech and published on the prime minister's website.  How strange that the media seem to have failed to notice this disgraceful abrogation of our government's solemn responsibilities!


3 Responses

  1. Ed Davies says:

    Thank you for drawing our attention to this.  I can see they'd want to give some impression of long term support for the Iraqi government but it does seem "courageous" to make it so open-ended.

    On the other hand, maybe this document has not been so carefully drafted.  It says that in the election over 12 million people voted, 76% of the population.  76% of any population is a pretty impressive turn-out given that a substantial proportion of the non-voters would not be eligible, e.g., because they are children.  According to the CIA World Factbook the population of Iraq is about 26.7 million.  I think they mean 76% of the electorate (of about 16 or 17 million).


    Brian writes:  A very neat point, Ed.  According to Encarta also, "The population of Iraq (2006 estimate) is 26,783,383"  (don't you love that phoney precision in what is acknowledged to be an estimate?).  According to my trusty calculator, 76 per cent of 26.8 million is a little over 20 million, which is a good deal more than the 12 million figure in the FCO paper.  If 12 million really is 76 per cent of the population, that would suggest a total population figure of around 16 million, implying that 10 million Iraqis must have been killed, died or emigrated since the 26 million estimate.  It beggars belief that this sort of sloppiness can pass muster in a formal published policy document produced by the FCO.  But the ludicrous assertion that we have transferred to the Iraqi government responsibility for deciding when — if ever — British forces should be allowed to leave Iraq, which would be absolutely shocking if anyone believed it, is an even more flagrant own goal.  Did no senior FCO official — or indeed a junior one — spot either of these blunders before the document was published?

  2. Brian,
    Nice point BUT  surely our Iraq  policy determined in Washington. The idea that the "ramshackle" al Malaki- it's difficult to call it a government- will determine US policy is plain daft.
     Do you really think the UK will remain if the yanks leave, even in the unlikely event that the Iraqi government ask us to stay?
    I don't

    Brian writes:  Tony, I entirely agree that in real life decisions on western troop withdrawals from Iraq will almost certainly be made in Washington, although I suppose it's just conceivable that a new British Government under Gordon Brown might decide to phase us out before the Americans had decided to pack it in — in which case the Americans, having failed to bully Brown into changing his mind, would probably pretend publicly to have agreed, although the scenario is unlikely.  Anyway, if the decision were to be taken in Washington or London for the Brits to pull out, we would obviously do so even if the Iraqi government at the time wanted us to stay.  But my point is that both Mrs Beckett in her RUSI speech and now the FCO briefing paper accompanying the Queen's Speech formally ask us (and the Iraqis) to believe otherwise.  What is it about Iraq that seemingly makes it impossible for our ministers to tell the truth?

  3. Oliver Miles says:

    Interesting to see that presidential hopeful Senator Barack Obama said in a moderately courageous speech in Chicago on 20 November (text at http://obama.senate.gov/speech/061120-a_way_forward_in_iraq/index.html ) "The President should announce to the Iraqi people that our policy will include a gradual and substantial reduction in U.S. forces. He should then work with our military commanders to map out the best plan for such a redeployment and determine precise levels and dates. When possible, this should be done in consultation with the Iraqi government – but it should not depend on Iraqi approval."  Perhaps it will catch on.

    Brian adds: Yes, indeed.  He has evidently spotted the trap into which Mrs Beckett (and presumably Mr Blair) have tumbled — giving the Iraqis a veto over the decision on a date for our withdrawal, at any rate on the face of it.  In this Senator Obama perhaps shows the courage of the man whose religious faith convinces him that he's right (see his statement of faith at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barack_Obama#Personal_life).  cf Bush and Blair, alas.  To quote J. Caesar, 'such men are dangerous.'