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Wednesday 24 Sep 2014

Press Release

Senior US military say British suffered "defeat" in Basra and left people of the city to be "terrorised"

In Secret Iraq on BBC Two (9pm, 29 Septmber) senior American soldiers criticise the British withdrawal from Basra.

According to retired General Jack Keane, who was instrumental in persuading President Bush to adopt the Surge: "I think it was a huge mistake to pull out of Basra and to go out to the airfield and to leave the people of Basra to be subjected to the Iranian surrogates who brutalized them, intimidated them, terrorized them."

Colonel Peter Mansoor, who was Executive Officer to General David Petraeus at the time, is equally scathing: "I don't know that you could see the British withdrawal from Basra in 2007 in any other light other than a defeat."

The British General in charge of Southern Iraq at the time – Jonathan Shaw – describes how his actions were constrained by political considerations in London: "I think the biggest problem was the political problem. There was America surging, there was Britain reducing force levels. Our political leaderships were moving in different directions and that was extremely awkward."

As retired senior British General Rob Fry succinctly puts it: "The Americans decided to win. We decided to leave."

From the US perspective, General David Petraeus dismisses all talk of victory: "Only history can render that verdict and I think it would be premature... to declare victory or success."

General Shaw speaking on the record for the first time describes the secret negotiations he held with the local Shia militia leader in Basra, which effectively handed over control of the city to the militias, in exchange for the safe passage of British troops from the centre of the city to the air base.

"You play the cards you get at the time. We knew we had to somehow get out. How would it have looked if we had pulled out of Basra in something that looked like the Alamo? There's an awful lot in war and in these political conflicts, which doesn't come out of the cricket rulebook."

In the last three months of 2007, after the British pulled out of the centre of Basra, 45 women were killed by the militia for "un-Islamic" behaviour.

As one long term local resident of Basra recalls: "I had to buy an AK47 for personal protection. They started killing people who sell alcoholic drinks and barbers who shave beards. They started killing unveiled women."

General Jonathan Shaw concedes: "I wouldn't claim it was our finest hour, but I would say it was a good play of a hand as we could have given the circumstances at the time."

Secret Iraq features a number of revelatory interviews with senior US military figures.

These include General HR McMaster who is now number two to General Petraeus in Afghanistan.

McMaster describes the activities of the Iraqi government at the height of the sectarian killings in 2005/6: "The Ministry of the Interior, the Ministry of Agriculture, the Ministry of Education, The Ministry of Transportation, the Ministry of Health really became platforms from which Shia militias would launch attacks against Sunni Arab communities. Many of these activities were war crimes. These were war crimes that were, that were planned and organised by various leaders within the Iraqi government, within the security forces."

General Jack Keane, former Vice Chief of the Army Staff, is blunt in his criticism of American strategy in Iraq in the period before the surge, of which he was a key architect: "Our strategy was to transition to the Iraqi security forces as quickly as possible. The major vulnerability of that strategy was nowhere in there was there a plan to protect the population. We made a conscious decision not to protect the population."

Secret Iraq – Wednesday 29 September and 6 October, BBC Two, 9pm

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