Death in Iraq,The British under Siege.

Interesting article in todays times and some interesting comments after;

"A single shot, two hours of confusion. Our correspondent reports from southern Iraq
Anthony Loyd

It was either remarkable marksmanship or a fluke.

Private Craig Barber was killed by a single shot through a crack in the driver’s hatch of his Warrior armoured fighting vehicle, open against the sweltering heat of the Basra night. He died immediately, hit in the head.

But because the Warrior had its engine running and the vehicle was stationary, no one realised that he had been killed. It was a further quarter of an hour before Private Barber’s Warrior commander gave word to move and, puzzled by his driver’s silence, jumped down to see what had befallen him.

What unfolded next underlines the extraordinary circumstances in which British soldiers now find themselves in the final days of their deployment in central Basra.

Even if the war is still winnable in Iraq, it is now being lost at home. Even some Republican senators are calling for troops to be withdrawn

Private Barber’s comrades tried to get him out of the driver’s hatch so that another soldier could drive the vehicle away. But he was a huge man. As they struggled, they came under more fire.

Forced to abandon their efforts and get into cover, a recovery vehicle was given the task of towing their Warrior away back to Basra Palace. The journey out, earlier in the evening, had taken 25 minutes. With fire erupting around them, it took the soldiers more than two hours to battle their way back.

Once regarded as the model for post-invasion Iraq, Basra is now a logistical nightmare where even the simplest operation can turn deadly and soldiers frequently have to fight their way home. Private Barber, who was on his second tour of duty in Iraq with 2nd Battalion, The Royal Welsh, was due to return to South Wales within days to celebrate his first wedding anniversary with his wife Donna and son Bradley, 3.

As members of the battlegroup fought their way back to Basra Palace, the radio hissed with word of fighting as militia closed in. One vehicle took a direct hit from a rocket-propelled grenade. Two roadside bombs were encountered and destroyed. A Rifles’ sniper on a rooftop killed all three members of an al-Mahdi Army bomb team as they laid another device.

The fighting continued almost up until the palace gate, ending with a large firefight and a huge volley of machinegun fire. The battlegroup estimated that they had killed between 20 and 30 militiamen during the action. It was scant consolation.

British Forces are due to withdraw from Basra Palace in weeks, pulling back to the much larger airport base on the city outskirts. Until then they face many more operations like Monday’s.

It had started as it so often does for the Basra City battlegroup. Infanteers from 4 Rifles and the Royal Welsh Regiment had left Basra Palace to an area known as the Uti Triangle in the city centre. The odd flash of a distant rocket-propelled grenade lit the sky and, once or twice, the chatter of machineguns drifted over the barks of dogs and growl of the engine, along with the stench of sewerage and rotting rubbish.

The Uti Triangle, a flat zone combining open wasteland, marsh and clustered buildings, has been frequently used by al-Mahdi Army mortar and rocket teams targeting British Forces both in the palace and airbase. The plan was for an advance group of Warriors, manned by soldiers from the Royal Welsh, to clear the route and establish a cordon around the area. Troops from 4 Rifles would then move into the zone, conduct a search and speak to locals.

Attacks against British troops in Basra have now surpassed all previous levels in number, sophistication and intensity, but a great many ordinary locals both dislike the militia of the Mahdi Army, and would prefer British troops to remain in the city.

Soldiers based in the palace still draw a lot of information from locals who fear that should the British leave, the city will descend into a worse mafia-style fiefdom of gun law than it already is. Uti was a case in point. The bulk of the tribe living there detested the Mahdi Army, were aggrieved to have their yards used as firing points for mortars, and appeared only too happy to see British soldiers.

“F*** the Jaish al Mahdi,” spat one young Iraqi man in English as the riflemen passed him. “Chase them out of here.”

But any British operation in Basra now is a race against the clock. Militiamen, bolstered by weapons, training and equipment from Iran, have consolidated their control over various areas of the city. They can react quickly to word of any British presence on the ground, deploying ambushes along the only two routes back to palace.

At dawn the day after Private Barber’s death, the flag was at half mast, again. There was not much time for grief though. Instead the soldiers started prepapring for the next night’s operation."

And the comments;

"I can only say this is heartbreaking. It proves the maxim "no good deed goes unpunished".

Erick Blair, Los Angeles, USA

Looks as if sniper teams are targeting British forces as well as US. Several aspects:
- Killing one or even two soldiers a day will hardly drive the British out of Basra
- However, to film the event and post it on the web has a very negative impact on military families. (see Juba, Baghdad sniper)
- The more the war goes badly the greater pressure to cut and run. The British pulling out would put the US under even more pressure
- Someone has to hold Basra, the only land exit for an army to escape from Iraq. Assume memories of Dunkerque influenced the selection of Basra.
The US is looking for an excuse to withdraw from with something vaguely resembling honour. "Our allies let us down" seems ready-made.
The US getting kicked out of Iraq with encourage other oil-producing countries in the region to begin selling their oil in something other than dollars, assume euros.
If that happens, the US dollar and economy are under threat.
So you don't run out of things to worry about.

Andrew Milner, Yokohama, Kanagawa

It's time to get rid of the PC brigade, the Army must have known roughly where the Mahdi army was
located and called in aircraft and pattern bomb the area so a few civilians go down so what. They offer
little help to the army they have to forget about being
Mr nice guy and start taking control of the place again.

Barry Holmes, Christchurch, New Zealand

So we are being run out of Basra by the Iraqi Home Guard.
Good planning by the Cabinet of March 2003 and Gen Mike Jackson!!!

sam_m, london, "

Interesting to see that three of the comments are 'foriegn'.
RIP Craig.
My condolences to your family & friends.

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