Tim Spicer claimed to be an admirer of Lawrence of Arabia in his Guardian interview today. It’s a pity he didn’t take this remark by Lawrence to heart:
The people of England have been led in Mesopotamia into a trap from which it will be hard to escape with dignity and honor. Things have been far worse than we have been told, our administration more bloody and inefficient than the public knows. It is a disgrace to our imperial record, and may soon be too inflamed for any ordinary cure. We are today not far from a disaster.
This was quoted in the Asia Times by Sami Moubayed, who argues that it applies as much today as it did in the 1920s.
Some of the stories in the British press in the past week suggest he’s on to something:
Iraq is on a knife-edge. You feel it when the pilot of the Puma helicopter suddenly banks and automatically fires decoys in response to the threat of an attack from the ground. You sense it on the faces of young British squaddies preparing for another night patrol. You certainly hear it when you talk to British military commanders in Basra and Baghdad. (Richard Norton-Taylor, The Guardian)
two British troops were slightly hurt when a routine patrol came under attack with bombs, grenades and petrol bombs north-west of Basra, southern Iraq.
A Ministry of Defence spokesman said the soldiers managed to get out in time and were returned to their base. Their vehicle was burnt out.
Major Sebastian Muntz, a British Army spokesman in Basra, admitted that recent attacks on British troops were "worrying". (The Telegraph)
In Basra, where most of Britain’s 8,000 soldiers are based, General Hassan Swadi, chief of the police force, narrowly escaped an assassination attempt when a roadside bomb hit his convoy as he was going to work.
Despite assurances by the Defence minister Des Browne that the situation was under control while visiting the city, the Iraqi President, Jalal Talabani, discussed the situation in Basra with his Shia and Sunni Vice-Presidents, Adil Abdul-Mahdi and Tariq al-Hashimi.
"We are following this issue closely, not because other parts of Iraq are violence-free, but because of the importance of the city with regard to the security of the south as a whole and the economy of Iraq," Mr Abdul-Mahdi said. (Independent)
BRITISH forces are facing the alarming prospect of fighting two simultaneous counter-insurgency wars this summer after a sharp escalation of violence in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Despite government assurances that British soldiers can tackle two combat roles at once, there is growing concern among senior officers, diplomats and politicians that overstretched forces may be left exposed in two of the most dangerous countries of the world.
With 8,000 troops in Iraq and more than 4,000 in Afghanistan, the Army has not had to conduct two overseas campaigns of this magnitude for about 40 years, when it was fighting in Aden and Borneo. (The Times)
You would have thought that common sense would have alerted the British Government to the dangers suggested by The Times, certainly before they started looking for a confrontation with the major regional power between Iraq and Afghanistan.
In some ways Britain looks more vulnerable in a conflict with Iran than the US. I always assumed that this was one reason why Jack Straw ruled out the use of force, which makes the shift from the position he outlined all the more worrying.