Monday, September 03, 2007

Iraq - Surprise visit by Bush as British troops 'pullout'

British troops have moved from Basra Palace in Baghdad to the nearby airport in what is being seen as the beginning of the end of the British presence in Iraq [BBC]. Over 500 troops have relocated to Basra airport and will join 5000 troops already stationed there. There has been no official statement or reaction from US officials but it is likely to increase perceived tensions between the US and the British command over the strategy in Iraq. One general expressed this tension in a comment to CNN. "There can be disagreements amongst professionals about certain ways of how you handle strategy and tactics," said Rear Admiral Mark Fox. There has been much criticism over recent days of the US strategy in the war torn country from ex-members of the British army. Major General Tim Cross, the most senior British officer involved in postwar planning, has criticized former U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in the Sunday Mirror for ignoring warnings that Iraq would descend into chaos [BBC / CNN]. "Right from the very beginning we were all very concerned about the lack of detail that had gone into the postwar plan, and there is no doubt that Rumsfeld was at the heart of that process," Cross said in the Sunday newspaper. He was not alone in his criticism of US policy. Only a day before, retired General Sir Michael Jackson described the US strategy in Iraq as being “intellectually bancrupt” [BBC].
The pull-out from Basra Place, due to be completed by Monday, was described by the MoD as a long stated aim of the British military. "Handing over Basra Palace to the Iraqi authorities has long been our intention, as we have stated publicly on numerous occasions", the MoD said in a press release.

As the relocation was completed, President George W Bush arrived in Iraq on a surprise visit. Sky News speculated he would meet with General Petraeus and Iraq’s President Maliki before flying to Australia for the Economic Summit. President Bush was reported to have arrived in the Green Zone in central Baghdad, along with his Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. The visit comes a week to the day that a much awaited report on the situation in Iraq is published. Fox News Reporter Courtney Kealy, speaking Live from Baghdad, described the visit as a ‘complete surprise’. She said Mr Bush had arrived at Al Asad airbase in Anbar Province. Details are a little confused as the story develops with early reports suggesting Robert Gates was traveling with the entourage. There is also confusion as to whether the President had indeed visited Baghdad’s Green Zone. The BBC and Sky News both reported that he was accompanied by the US National Security Adviser, Stephen Hadley.

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