New York Times on British Army

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  1. October 17, 2004 Sunday
    Late Edition - Final

    SECTION: Section 1; Column 1; Foreign Desk; THE REACH OF WAR: THE OCCUPATION; Pg. 12

    LENGTH: 1540 words

    HEADLINE: Drawing From Its Past Wars, Britain Takes a Tempered Approach to Iraqi Insurgency




    They came with their regimental colors, embroidered flags recording battles in 18th-century India, in the Napoleonic wars, against Ottoman legions in Iraq in World War I, on the Normandy beaches, and in Malaya, Kenya and other colonial outposts after World War II.

    For 8,900 British soldiers serving in Iraq, second largest among 31 foreign military contingents to the 140,000 American troops, the banners hanging at their bases are emblems of a collective memory -- of how to prevail in foreign wars, and, just as surely, British officers say sardonically, of how to lose them.

    Lately, in map-lined operations rooms, on jeep patrols across oil-rich deserts, and in clamorous mess halls serving favorites like steak-and-kidney pie, British soldiers serving at bases across Iraq's southernmost provinces say they have felt the lessons of history pressing in.

    With American troops, the British are the tribunes of the two nations that led the Iraq invasion 18 months ago. Now, trapped with the Americans in a continuing war that neither nation anticipated when Baghdad fell, British officers and squaddies, as the enlisted men are called, speak, often like a Rudyard Kipling lament for the blighted hopes of soldiers bearing alien ideals into far-off lands.

    ''At the end of the day, we are the infidels, the crusaders, and the Iraqis would rather we were not here,'' said Maj. Jason Jordan, who commanded troops of the Cheshire Regiment besieged in a Basra outpost in August by fighters loyal to the rebel Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr. ''But as long as we're not doing any harm, and actually doing some good, they'll tolerate us.''

    As the insurgency lengthens, the British world-weariness strikes a telling contrast with the more visionary perspective of American commanders.

    In recent weeks, the American command has set out to crush Mr. Sadr's fighters in the sprawling Shiite area of Baghdad called Sadr City, as well as the alliance of loyalists of the former government and Islamic militants who form the core of the resistance in cities across the Sunni Triangle. The Americans contend Iraqis will embrace Western-style freedoms in elections scheduled by Jan. 31 if the rebels can be beaten back.

    The American offensive resulted in a truce last week under which Sadr representatives offered a cease-fire and a turnover of heavy weapons for cash in return for an American pledge not to enter Sadr City. The weapons turnover met with some early success, but American officials cautioned that Mr. Sadr had accepted similar truces before, only to trigger new uprisings.

    To prepare for national voting in January, the British have organized town council elections in the south, attracting voter turnouts of 10 percent to 25 percent. But ultimately, British officers say, Iraqis are likely to revert to more traditional governing models, tempered by tribal and religious loyalties, and, perhaps, the instinct for a strongman that helped Saddam Hussein build his dictatorship.

    ''They do things differently here, and to try and implant a view of democracy that works in North America and the United Kingdom is going to be fraught, to say the least,'' said Lt. Col. John Donnelly, the overall Cheshire Regiment commander in Basra. ''Don't get me wrong, Iraqis do want some sort of democracy, that's a reality, but in the end, their future is for them to decide, not us.''

    The diverging perspectives have resonated in different fighting strategies. At Falluja, Najaf, Samarra and Tal Afar, and in Sadr City before the truce, the Americans have hit hammer-hard, seeking to root out and kill as many rebels as possible. The British, throughout the war, have favored ''less robust'' fighting to contain the rebels with defensive actions, not eliminate them.

    British officers acknowledge that the different strategies reflect the heavier challenges the Americans have faced. American troops, spread out across 14 of Iraq's 18 provinces, have faced rebels from the Sunni and Shiite communities. The British, in the Shiite south, have faced mainly Shiite attacks, culminating in the two widespread Sadr uprisings in April and August.

    ''Before April, compared to what the American troops in Baghdad and Falluja were facing, this was a holiday camp,'' said Maj. Justin Featherstone, 35, who led troops of the Princess of Wales Royal Regiment in defense of another garrison besieged by Mr. Sadr's fighters in August, in Amara. ''We were welcomed here as liberators, and we made a lot of progress. Then Sadr led his uprisings, and it all went horribly wrong.''

    Beyond the lower-level attacks they have faced, the British cite other reasons for using only ''appropriate force,'' in mainly defensive operations. Long after empire, they say, they relearned the limits of military action from quelling 30 years of sectarian strife in Northern Ireland and as United Nations peacekeepers in Bosnia in the early 1990's.

    In August, American forces crushed Mr. Sadr's fighters in Najaf, driving them from the city's golden shrine with tank fire, laser-guided bombs and armored assaults that left much of Najaf's old city in ruins.

    In Basra and Amara, the south's two largest cities, Sadr fighters besieged British troops in isolated strongholds, pounding them with rocket, mortar and machine-gun fire that, in Amara, amounted to the heaviest assault British troops had endured since the Korean War.

    The British successfully defended the two compounds, killing as many as 300 attackers, with only three British soldiers killed. But the British mounted no major counterstrikes, sparing neighboring localities and, British officers say, limiting civilian casualties.

    ''When Sadr's people kicked off, we could have jumped in with big boots and killed 400 to 500 people, but we couldn't have defeated them, because they would have melted away into the side streets, and we'd have created another Najaf,'' Colonel Donnelly said. ''We've got to find a solution here that is based on nonviolence, or we'll be here for years and years.''

    British commanders noted some of the reasons for the tougher American responses, in particular, Mr. Sadr's occupation of the Imam Ali Shrine in Najaf, the holiest in Shiite Islam, and the political and religious imperative of forcing him out; the location of Sadr City, only five miles from the seat of power in central Baghdad, was another special factor.

    The Basra and Amara uprisings, the British say, were comparative sideshows, quick to subside once Najaf ended.

    Brigadier Andrew Kennett, commander of the British battle group based in Basra, the core of a 12-nation contingent in the southernmost provinces, said one lesson Britain learned from its centuries straddling the globe -- often reluctantly and painfully, he said -- was the importance of adjusting to local cultures, and of not imposing alien solutions. ''We do need to have a mind to the fact that some of these people have a legitimate political point of view,'' he said, speaking of Mr. Sadr.

    British soldiers are encouraged to engage amicably with ordinary Iraqis and are taught simple Arabic phrases and the rudiments of Islamic belief.

    As often as possible, they wear berets instead of helmets, travel in aging, soft-sided Land Rovers instead of armored vehicles, and mount foot patrols with lowered weapons, even through neighborhoods where they have recently taken enemy fire.

    ''Our motto is 'Smile, shoot, smile,''' said Colonel Donnelly of the Cheshire Regiment. ''Our attitude is, 'Today, I'm your enemy, and I want to kill you, but tomorrow, I'll be your friend,''' he said.

    Another lesson the British have taken from their experiences is the benefit that can flow from modest forms of aid directed at the neediest people in the communities they garrison. Major Featherstone said community leaders in Amara's poorest districts -- mostly Sadr loyalists -- complained this spring that the British were ''complacent and arrogant oppressors who had done nothing'' in a year in the city.

    He said he asked the leaders to nominate their most deprived people for small grants. Drawing on Britain's $140 million aid budget for Iraq, he approved grants of $50 to $500 to help set up 180 small businesses, including a tea stall, a barber, a grocer, a tailor, a car mechanic, a blanket-sewer and a taxi driver. He said the businesses were ''putting food on the table'' for more than 2,000 people before the August uprising.

    During the rebel attack, more than 600 mortars were fired at the football field-size British compound, Major Featherstone said, but three people who received grants appeared at the compound gates during the siege with receipts for the money they had received, and for 14 other beneficiaries' grants. He said he had a telephone call during the siege from a relative of a Sadr commander named Hussein, who told him that ''Hussein wants to know if you're O.K.''

    Major Curry, at the base outside Amara, said the lesson from these and other experiences was that foreign troops in Iraq had to concentrate on the welfare of local communities, especially on reducing unemployment. ''If we give these people something to live for, rather than die for, we will have won this war,'' he said. ''We are not going to win in Iraq just by fighting.''


    GRAPHIC: Photo: A British soldier smiled as he and a colleague passed an Iraqi boy while they patrolled the southern city of Basra last month. (Photo by Essam al-Sudani/Agence France-Presse--Getty Images)
  2. Oh bugg*r!!

    Thats what I've been missing all along!! 8O
  3. The problem here is that our commanders have not been issued with Spectacles, Rose-Tinted, (Politicians/Commanders), due to MoD's just-in-time procurement debacle. Or the SPAMS have been taking mind-altering substances again.... :D
  4. Bad CO

    Bad CO LE Admin Reviews Editor Gallery Guru

    Source: Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary (1913)

    Visionary \Vi"sion*a*ry\, n.; pl. Visionaries.
    1. One whose imagination is disturbed; one who sees visions
    or phantoms.

    2. One whose imagination overpowers his reason and controls
    his judgment; an unpractical schemer; one who builds
    castles in the air; a daydreamer.

    Well that clears up exactly why we are in our current mess!!!!
  5. I was going to say...I think they meant idealistic.
  6. Cor Blimey! Wot it must be to 'ave an educshun, from our old pals.

    I'll ave a pint of warm mild, an' a steak an' kidley pie, smashin' luverly. :wink:
  7. Yeah - I know loads of guys who are always having Kiplingesque laments for their blighted hopes.
  8. He really does make exceedingly good cakes, you know ..
  9. Mutineer makes good cakes? Excellent - make some for me please. [​IMG]
  10. Kel

    Kel Old-Salt

    Yeah, right, 'cos we all know that after the elections everything'll be honky dory. We can shake hands, exchange pleasantries and go home for tea and medals. Ah, wait a minute, think that was a Kiplingesque moment there. Order your Telic 35 tour T-shirt now.
  11. chimera

    chimera LE Moderator

    Whilst at the same time killing anyone else who got in the way - and a few that didn't - thereby creating even more rebels to be killed next time.....
  12. X-Inf

    X-Inf War Hero Book Reviewer

    Isn't it just so nice to be patronised. I hope a copy of that article is given to all serving in Iraq or have done so that they can see the error of their ways and adjust to the visionary way (or as T Bliar would say - the third way).