[A-List] Iraq: UK galloping into the mire

Michael Keaney michael.keaney at mbs.fi
Mon Oct 18 06:32:28 MDT 2004


Black Watch soldiers tell of their dismay over move
IAN BRUCE, Defence Correspondent
The Herald, October 18 2004

WAR-WEARY Scottish soldiers who thought they were about to go home have told
The Herald of their despondency at being put on alert to go to one of the
most dangerous battle zones in Iraq.

Morale among the 600 men of the Black Watch in Iraq has plummeted since the
call placing them on "notice to move" in support of US forces south of
Baghdad came last week.

A number of soldiers indicated they are considering "chucking it" and some
questioned why British soldiers were being deployed to one of the country's
most volatile areas when there are thousands of US troops available in Iraq.

The expressions of disillusionment by Black Watch troops came as Tony Blair
came under renewed pressure after being accused of using British troops as
"a political gesture" to help George Bush. Geoff Hoon, the defence
secretary, will make a Commons statement today on the proposals.

A section commander who took part last year in the assaults on the militia
stronghold of Az Zubayr and then helped break the main defences outside
Basra, told The Herald: "The lads have been through the mill. We saw a fair
bit of action last March. August this year was even worse. The Mehdi Army
fighters gave it a real go. We were being shot at every time we went out."

One veteran soldier said: "We couldn't believe it. You get used to being
mucked about in the army, but this was a real sickener. We were that close
to going home and now we're facing a risky, 300-mile road move to an even
more dangerous area.

"The young Jocks all asked 'Why us again?' It's a good question. Morale has
taken a nosedive, although we've no choice but to get on with it. The
families back home must be gutted. I can see a lot of people chucking it
after this is over. The guys are asking why the Yanks need one British
battalion when they've got 138,000 of their own troops in-country."

One private, who decided to leave the army after the war, changed his mind
and was then posted back to Iraq, said: "If it all kicks off after the Yanks
go in hard against Falluja, then anything in coalition uniform will be a
target, including us. We're not stupid. We know that if another uprising
happens, we'll be stuck in the middle of it with no quick way out."

One sergeant told The Herald: "When I get back to Scotland I'm taking the
family on holiday. Somewhere cold and wet. Somewhere there's no sand, sun or
flies. Definitely somewhere no-one's trying to kill me. Beach holidays are
out."

The first detachments of the regiment were due to fly back to their base at
Warminster in the next two weeks after an emergency tour that had seen them
used as an armoured fire brigade in heavy fighting against the rebel Mehdi
Army uprising in August.

Most of the Scots had been with the battalion when it spearheaded the
British advance on Basra the previous year. For the majority, a second,
unexpected stint in the stifling, fly-blown heat of southern Iraq was
already a tour too many.

Just a week before, they had been told that they would be "home for
Christmas" and the talk was of family reunions, cold beer and Hogmanay
parties.

Colonel James Cowan, their commanding officer, was told his battalion, as
the UK's strategic reserve in the region and one of only two units equipped
with Warrior fighting vehicles, had been earmarked for possible temporary
duty in support of US operations against the insurgent stronghold of
Falluja.

An officer admitted: "Now we've got to concentrate on rebuilding morale,
doing the job, and getting everyone home in one piece."

Rose Gentle, 40, whose son Gordon, a Fusilier, died in a bomb attack in
Basra on June 28, said she did not believe the Black Watch should be sent
anywhere other than home.

"George Bush started this so why is it that our boys are being left to
finish it? Tony Blair will definitely have blood on his hands after this,"
she said.

-----

Pressure mounts on Blair over US support in Iraq
DEBORAH SUMMERS and BILLY BRIGGS
The Herald, October 18 2004

TONY Blair faces mounting pressure over his unshakeable support for
America's involvement in Iraq amid growing concern about British troop
deployment and claims of a secret "son of Star Wars" deal to allow US
missiles on UK soil.

After days of intense speculation over government plans to support US forces
around the Iraqi capital Baghdad, the premier yesterday buckled to
opposition demands for a Commons statement.

Mr Blair also came under fierce attack from Robin Cook, who resigned as
foreign secretary in protest at the war, and Lord Healey, a former Labour
defence secretary.

Mr Cook warned that if British troops were deployed in the US sector they
could find themselves associated with the more aggressive tactics used by
the Americans.

"For a year Britain has been trying in vain to persuade US forces to show
the same restraint as our troops, who have won a lot of local goodwill as a
result," he said.

"The real risk of sending a British battalion into the US sector is that our
troops could become associated in Iraqi minds with US methods. The last time
US forces attacked Falluja they left 1000 civilians dead and uproar across
Iraq at their heavy-handed tactics.

"There is a danger that if Britain frees up US forces for the next assault
we may be held equally responsible by Iraqis for what happens to the
residents of Falluja."
Lord Healey also warned against any further deployment of UK troops around
Baghdad.

He said: "If we do anything it is better to do it in Basra, where we have
managed to keep the bulk of the population on our side.

"The Americans, by bombing civilians without any real care or attention,
have turned the whole of the Iraqi people against them and indeed the whole
of the Muslim world."

Geoff Hoon, defence secretary, will today come to the Commons to update MPs
on proposals to deploy British troops in the American-controlled sector of
Iraq.
However, a Ministry of Defence spokesman stressed it would be purely a
holding statement confirming that a request for assistance had been received
from the Americans and saying that no decision had yet been made.

Ministers reacted angrily to comments by Nicholas Soames, shadow defence
secretary, suggesting British troops could be sent to Iraq as a "political
gesture" to help George Bush ahead of next month's US presidential
elections.

John Reid, health secretary, said: "For people to suggest that there is some
tawdry political deal here, I think, diminishes the effort that has been
made by our soldiers on the ground.

"There will be occasions when you are fighting in coalition when, at a given
tactical level, you operate under your ally's control. But the decisions
will be made on an operational ground."

Alan Milburn, Labour's general election supremo, echoed his comments,
adding: "People will look pretty askance at those who are saying somehow or
other there is some sort of tawdry political deal that has been done here."

Downing Street strenuously denied reports that the premier had secretly
agreed to allow Mr Bush to site US missiles on British soil as part of the
"son of Star Wars" programme.

Britain has already acceded to providing enhanced radar provision for the US
national missile defence programme, but a spokeswoman for Number 10 said:
"The idea that any kind of secret deal is being done regarding the son of
Star Wars programme is simply wrong."

Kofi Annan, United Nations secretary general, further added to the pressure
on Mr Blair by stating that the invasion of Iraq had done nothing to make
the world a safer place.

"I cannot say the world is safer when you consider the violence around us,
when you look around you and see the terrorist attacks around the world and
you see what is going on in Iraq.

"I cannot say the world is safer. We have a lot of work to do as an
international community to try to make the world safer."

-----

One mission too far
Editorial Comment
The Herald, October 18 2004

Troops' lives must not be risked for political ends

THE soldiers of the Black Watch have no shortage of courage. They have
proved this time and again in Iraq, where they spearheaded the assault on
Basra during the coalition invasion and then returned to the country 10
months later to lead a counter-insurgency war against militia loyal to the
rebel cleric Moqtada al Sadr. That second tour proved "more dangerous than
the actual war", according to one soldier. It also made a mockery of the
Ministry of Defence target to give soldiers a two-year gap between active
deployments. Now the Black Watch face a third mission, one which is likely
to be much more dangerous than anything that has gone before. The soldiers
are clearly dismayed, but will obey orders. Army leaders, it seems, are
sufficiently worried about the issue to leak details to the press. They are
concerned, along with some opposition politicians, that this decision is
based on political expediency - that Scottish soldiers will die to bolster
George Bush's election prospects. Sending the Black Watch north is likely to
cause many more British casualties and yet it will be far from clear whether
the British or American government would be accountable for these lives. The
Americans have requested back-up in two flashpoints south of Baghdad and
while Tony Blair has still to give his answer, it seems unlikely he will
refuse.

Bush, facing re-election in November, is already under severe pressure: many
American troops are now on their second or third consecutive tour in Iraq.
John Kerry has scored valuable points during recent televised debates by
accusing the president of effectively taking unilateral action there, with
90% of both the casualties and cost borne by the US. The president needs to
prove that there is an end in sight, that this is not another Vietnam.
Bringing British troops north and thus freeing up US troops for a renewed
assault on Fallujah could prove key to that. Tony Blair could refuse the
American request. However, the prime minister's track record suggests he is
willing to make unpopular decisions to maintain his close relationship with
the US president. And it will be unpopular - not just in Scotland. Labour
Party members will be rooting for the Democrat Kerry, but now find their
leader apparently intervening to bolster the chances of the Republican
incumbent. Strange times indeed. Although British troops have always been
under American command in Iraq, they have operated in separate areas,
ensuring no strain was put on the use of UK rules of engagement.

In this case, 650 British troops would be more directly controlled by US
army commanders in the field. There would undoubtedly be problems defining
the regiment's role within an Army whose gung-ho attitude has, in many
areas, increased tension, garnered support for the insurgents and resulted
in the deaths of thousands of civilians. So far, British troops have earned
themselves some credit in Iraq. They have made mistakes - most seriously
when six military policemen were killed after British troops used sniffer
dogs during aggressive searches of Iraqi homes. There remain unanswered
questions around deaths in custody. Overall, however, they have behaved
better than their American comrades. Decades of peacekeeping in Northern
Ireland, Bosnia, Croatia and elsewhere have helped in developing some trust
among Iraqis in the Basra area. The prime minister will have to think
carefully about his next move. Refusing to send support could well cool
Britain's relationship with the US, but this would be as nothing compared to
the damage done to relations with the British public if the reputation and
lives of soldiers in the battle-weary Black Watch are sacrificed for
political ends.

-----

Policemen killed in ambush as battle erupts in Falluja
BILLY BRIGGS
The Herald, October 18 2004

US forces battled insurgents around the rebel stronghold of Falluja
yesterday, and militants ambushed and killed nine Iraqi policemen returning
from training in Jordan.

Fierce clashes between US troops and insurgents broke out on a road east of
Falluja and in the southern part of the city, witnesses said. The road,
which leads to Baghdad, has been completely blocked.

Residents reported fresh artillery attacks as explosions boomed across the
city.

Plumes of smoke were seen rising from the Askari and Shuhada neighbourhoods
in eastern and southern Falluja as families began to flee the area,
residents reported. They said a Humvee was seen burning in the eastern edge
of the city.

Witnesses said that by dusk, US troops had pulled back, setting up a
checkpoint south-west of the city.

In the Sadr City district of Baghdad, a mortar shell exploded at a sports
stadium about 15 minutes before prime minister Ayad Allawi was due to arrive
to inspect a programme under which Shi'ite militiamen are handing in weapons
in return for cash.

The itinerary was quickly changed and Mr Allawi instead visited several
other sites before arriving at the stadium.

Falluja, 40 miles west of the capital, is considered the toughest stronghold
of insurgents.

Commanders have been speaking of a possible new offensive to wrest it from
the militants' control.

Negotiations aimed at restoring government control in Falluja without
requiring a ground assault have faltered.

Falluja clerics repeated their offer to return to negotiations if the US
stopped its bombing, while blaming the Iraqi government for the violence.

Mr Allawi had threatened military action if Falluja did not turn over terror
mastermind Abu Musab al Zarqawi.

"We are still ready to go back to the talks and open new channels of
dialogue," said negotiator Abdul Hamid Jadou.

But he said Mr Allawi is "responsible for each drop of blood being spilled
in Falluja. This government sided with the Americans in bombing the innocent
people who are fasting (on) Ramadan."

Iraq's interim government responded by renewing its call to Falluja to hand
over "terrorists" or face attack.

"The ongoing threat of terrorists to our people and the use of some areas
and cities as a haven for them is something the government cannot accept or
tolerate," Qassem Dawoud, national security adviser, said.

The fighting around Falluja followed an overnight strike by US jets,
blasting what the American command said was a checkpoint operated by the
feared Tawhid and Jihad terror movement of Jordanian-born extremist al
Zarqawi. Three people were killed, according to the Falluja hospital.

In Jordan, meanwhile, a military prosecutor charged al Zarqawi and 12 other
militants for an alleged al Qaeda linked plot to attack the US embassy in
Amman and Jordanian government targets with chemical and conventional
weapons, government officials said.

They added that al Zarqawi and three others in the group who are at large
will be tried in absentia.

Police said that nine Iraqi policemen returning from training in Jordan were
ambushed and killed on their way home to Karbala.

The bus in which they were travelling was attacked in Latifiyah, 25 miles
south of Baghdad, said a Karbala police spokesman.

The attackers escaped.

-----

Two armies that live by a different set of rules
IAN BRUCE, Defence Correspondent
The Herald, October 18 2004

RULES of engagement (ROEs) are the guidelines set by national military
commanders, based largely on the Geneva conventions and international laws
of war to prevent abuse of lethal power by soldiers in peacekeeping or
combat.

Contrary to public perception in the growing row over the Black Watch being
deployed in support of US forces in Iraq, there is no question of British
soldiers using American rules of engagement.

British Rules of Engagement

A British soldier must follow key rules, which allow him to kill only if his
life, the lives of his comrades, or the lives of civilians he has been sent
to protect are deemed to be in imminent danger. The "yellow card" carried by
generations of soldiers in Northern Ireland laid down the basic rule of
self-defence in all circumstances where weapons are being carried by the
opposition.

In more than 30 years there have been only a handful of prosecutions over
allegedly unlawful deaths.

British soldiers have honed that split-second judgement call which can spell
the difference between life and death over 30 years of peacekeeping in
Ulster and the Balkans with only a handful of prosecutions for unlawful
killing.

Soldiers in the British armed forces are also taught from basic training
onwards to open fire only when they have a clearly-defined armed target and
if they can do so without endangering innocent civilians.

British soldiers must always remember to act within the laws of the UK and
in accordance with military law, even when serving abroad.

Britain is also a signatory to the new International Criminal Court,
although Downing Street retains "primary jurisdiction" in cases where
British service personnel might be accused of a war crime.

US Rules of Engagement

The United States' ROEs follow the same basic structure, but the military
culture makes discrimination and selective targeting difficult in the heat
of the moment.
The typical American soldier is taught to use firepower rather than risk
manpower in hostile conditions, with almost inevitable "collateral damage"
to bystanders when a firefight breaks out.

Where British soldiers coming under sniper attack would take cover and begin
to manoeuvre to gain a sight of the gunman before returning fire, US troops
tend to open up with all available weapons, spraying buildings with
machine-guns and heavy weapons.

In Iraq, the insurgents' use of suicide car bombers has made US troops even
more trigger-happy when their checkpoints are approached by vehicles moving
at speed.

The US has prosecuted servicemen for unlawful killing, but tends to turn
something of a blind eye to deaths in combat zones, accepting that
mistakes - however tragic - will occur in the confusion of battle.





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