Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Harry stays home as Basra starts to boil over

A quarter of a century ago the British Royal Navy was attempting to pull Prince Andrew out of HMS Invincible. His ship was going to war and there was a fear that, in his role as a naval air arm Sea King pilot, he could be killed in action.

His mother pulled some strings. Andrew went to war with his ship and squadron and served in the Falklands. There was always the threat of him being shot down, particularly during missile decoy operations.

Prince Harry, Andrew's nephew, isn't getting the same kind of support. General Sir Richard Dannatt, Chief of the General Staff of the British army has refused to allow Harry to serve with his unit in Iraq.
Prince Harry will not be sent with his unit to Iraq, Britain's top general said Wednesday, citing specific threats to the third in line to the throne and the risks to his fellow soldiers.

Gen. Sir Richard Dannatt, the army chief of staff who recently traveled to Iraq, said the changing situation on the ground exposed the prince to too much danger. Media scrutiny of Harry's potential deployment exacerbated the situation, he said.

``There have been a number of specific threats, some reported and some not reported, that relate directly to Prince Harry as an individual,'' Dannatt said. ``These threats exposed him and those around him to a degree of risk I considered unacceptable.''

The debate over whether Prince Harry should deploy with his unit has raged in the UK with some people claiming the "privilege" is unwarranted and others suggesting he presents too great a risk to his troops. If only there was an easy answer.

To Harry's credit, he always remained eager to stay with his unit, no matter where it was deployed. He was willing to go to Iraq, which provides a remarkable contrast to the offspring of the American aristocracy who have consistently made loud noises about continuing the Iraq war without actually serving in anything close to a uniform.

Harry, however, is a target and it would be foolish to minimize the effect that would have on his unit, the Blues and Royals. His presence alone would increase the risk to his fellow soldiers and place them in unnecessary danger.

It's not worth it.

There is also another factor. General Sir Richard Dannatt has made it clear from the time he assumed the appointment as Chief of the General Staff, that he was opposed to a long deployment in Iraq and publicly stated that he wanted the British army to start drawing down its forces in the Basra region. Britain has already laid plans to start withdrawing troops. General Dannatt would probably prefer that such a withdrawal happen as quietly and as incident-free as possible. There is certainly no publicity gain from having a high-profile "Royal" with dusty boots drawing fire from Shi'ite militias.

While Basra is not suffering the same spate of car-bombs and sectarian violence as other areas of Iraq, there is now a problem of Shi'ite militias fighting each other to gain control of oil-fields and oil exports.
Sporadic militia battles, endemic corruption and death threats now scar the once tranquil port. "Everyone's trying to grab resources and make a quick profit without considering a long-term programme or attempting to establish a power base for the future," said Peter Harling, an analyst for the International Crisis Group who focuses on Iraq.

"The interesting thing about violence in Basra is that it's not related to the two big factors of violence elsewhere: fighting the occupation and sectarian violence," he said. Residents fear that violence could be a sign of things to come, especially as British troops disengage from the south. Britain, which has already turned over three southern provinces to Iraqi control, is poised to reduce its 7,000-strong force in Basra to about 5,500 by the beginning of June.

And it would appear that the British are putting on a happy face and planning on leaving no matter what happens.

Some in Basra are worried that a British withdrawal would encourage groups to use force to control the oil fields. With sabotage halting exports in northern fields, the Basra terminal is essentially Iraq's only source of income at present. Attacks by suspected militants against British forces are on the rise-April was the deadliest month for British troops since the first month of the war-but a spokeswoman for the British consulate in Basra played down fears of political warfare after the planned reduction in British forces. "The most important question is not whether there'll be trouble in Basra but whether Iraqi security forces can handle it. We have seen the Iraqis are increasingly ready and willing to assume more responsibilities," she said.
Because, there will be trouble whether the British stay or not. The British have now reached a point in their operations in Iraq which will play hard on British troops.

No one wants to be the last person killed when you're quitting the place anyway.

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