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Thursday, February 22, 2007 

Troops out, royal family in!

The amount of absolute nonsense surrounding the non-withdrawal of troops from Iraq is nauseating. There's Dick Cheney, Vietnam draft dodger, saying that the withdrawal of a whole 1,600, with the rest maybe being gone by the end of 2008, if all goes to plan, proves that some things are going splendidly well. Quite right too. According to some notoriously unreliable statistics, there were only 29 murders in Basra in December. It's quite true that compared to Baghdad that's a below average daily toll, but it's hardly suggesting all is calm.

The truth of the matter is that the very people who are in power in Basra are the ones who have wanted the troops out from the beginning. The Mahdi army, which has always opposed the occupation, is still in majority control despite Operation Sinbad. The most egregious of the criminal gangs and brutal of the militia commanders may have been cleaned out, but the rest will remain. This is a very different situation to that in Baghdad -- while opinion polls have time and again made clear that ordinary Iraqis wish for foreign troops to leave, the government itself is adamant that the Americans must stay. They know full well that without the protection, inadequate as it is, that they would soon be forced from power, Shia, Sunni or otherwise. While they stay cooped up in the Green Zone, the citizens of Baghdad face the suicide bombers and the sectarian death squads.

Blair's insistence that nothing was his or our fault, that the terrorists are the ones responsible for the mass slaughter perpetuated in close to four years, and that things are actually better now than they were under Saddam are the real conundrum, as still is his support in the first place. We know why the Bush administration wanted to get rid of Saddam, a mixture of reasons involving remaking the Middle East, oil and establishing a new outpost after being forced out of Saudi Arabia, but it's still impossible to figure out just what Blair thought he would get out of joining in with such a war. He can't have imagined just how badly it would go, and how it would personally destroy him, but that doesn't explain why even now he's hanging on desperately, managing to convince only himself that everyone apart from him is responsible. He's had innumerable chances to extricate himself from this mess, yet it's as if he has a masochistic streak that makes him enjoy the political consequences of not doing so. This wouldn't be so bad if it was over a matter such as the Euro, or proportional representation, refusing to accept defeat, but this is literally a matter of life and death, for both the troops who he's sacrificed for his stand and for the Iraqis who have died in their thousands as a result. His gluttony for punishment nurtures his pathological delusions, a vicious circle which this feeble withdrawal will not solve.

You can at least feel some sympathy for Blair's predicament over the withdrawal. The fickleness of some of the media and politicians is stark. The Daily Mail, which was sniffy about the war from the beginning, calls this minute exit plan "cutting and running". Menzies Campbell, who was uncertain about opposing the war, tries to have it both ways by lecturing Blair about the situation in Basra while still talking of his honourable plan for all troops to be out of Iraq by October. The army, which wanted faster and sharper cuts, is left in a country it wants to wash its hands of, believing that they can do no more to help Basra, while Afghanistan is still winnable. They have more than a point, and are right to be increasingly angry about their treatment, feted by Blair for their bravery on one hand and left with poor equipment, housing, benefits and pay back home. Their belief that they've been paying with their lives for an American foreign policy with nothing to show for it in return is one that may yet turn out to be a turning point for our own foreign policy once Blair is finally turned out.

It's utterly bizarre therefore that Prince Harry is so determined to go to Iraq. At a time when the rest of the army is almost unanimous in never wanting to return, he seems to want to sell himself dearly. It could be out of a desire to not let those whom he's trained with down, as they certainly don't have the choice of not going, at least without facing a court martial, or it could be that he's as stupid as it's assumed he is. The talk of him being a target for "insurgents" is utter bilge, however. It's obvious that the majority of them couldn't care less who they kill, and if an IED happened to bump him off, it'd be an added propaganda bonus, but little more.

This is why the sanctimonious outpouring of praise for his "bravery" and the whole media circus surrounding his trip to southern Basra is so insulting and demeaning for the average soldier. Their work has been almost taken for granted, especially by the very politicians who have defended to the last the whole sorry saga. The only really impressive thing about his desire to serve is that he is one of the very few from the corridors of power that is prepared to do so. If he does return home in a body bag, it might finally bring home to those who continue to cheerlead for both this war and the next, if it comes, what the real consequences of their actions are. It has been this disconnect from facing up to death that has been the real scandal of the Iraq war, for both our own and those unfortunate enough to inhabit the land of two rivers.

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Member of armed forces in insisting they do the job they're paid for shock!

Harry going to Iraq isn't a story. Harry NOT going to Iraq is.

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