By the summer of 2006 the British were much more realistic about their assessments of the situation in Iraq than their American counterparts. While the Bush administration was full of hope for the new government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki the UK said he was weak. There was report after report to London that violence was out of control. What was similar between the Bush and Blair governments however was that they both were focused upon withdrawing from Iraq.
In June 2006 the UK ambassador to Iraq Dominic Asquith made a report on new Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. He said that the delay in forming the cabinet made the PM nervous because he was not a confident leader. He was constantly afraid that the would be dismissed and he couldn’t rely upon the loyalty of the United Iraqi Alliance that he was part of because it was made up of different parties who were all vying for power. After taking office Maliki tried to assert himself by announcing plans to secure Baghdad and start reconciliation. Neither worked because Maliki didn’t support either one. It would take quite some time before Maliki was assure of himself and his position.
The security situation in Iraq continued to deteriorate in 2006. A July 19 review by the Joint Intelligence Committee said there were many actors behind the violence in Iraq. The biggest threat was the spiraling sectarian violence that was overwhelming the government. The summer saw the highest levels of violence since the 2003 invasion. In July 20 new Ambassador William Patey warned that the Coalition was facing strategic failure because Iraq was falling into civil war and might disintegrate. The British were responsible for Maysan and Basra both of which lacked security largely due to the Mahdi Army and death squads. The British were one of the first to point out how Iraq was falling apart. They were writing reports about it early after the invasion. This was in stark contrast to the Americans who refused to say there was an insurgency for almost a year and kept claiming that things were getting better.
On September 28 the UK launched Operation Sinbad in Basra focusing upon building up the police and reconstruction. PM Maliki opposed the plan because he was protecting the Mahdi Army since Moqtada al-Sadr was one of his main supporters. Sinbad failed to make any real impact upon the province but the British touted it anyways. That was because they wanted to withdraw from Iraq and were already preparing to pull out of Basra city to the airport. The Blair government wanted to withdraw nearly half its troops by May 2007.
London’s plans were based upon turning over responsibility to the Iraqi forces but they were plagued by problems. On December 24 the UK raided the Serious Crime Unit HQ in Basra city. It found 127 prisoners, 80% of which had been tortured. The unit was controlled by the Mahdi Army and infamous for murders and crime. On March 3, 2007, the Iraqi Special Forces backed by U.S. advisers raided the National Intelligence Agency offices in Basra and found a death squad leader there and 30 prisoners who’d been abused. Maliki criticized the raid. These problems would never be cleaned up.
Ultimately the British chose to ignore these issues so that it could withdraw. That included continued talks with the Sadrists. Those began in early 2006 and continued into 2007. The UK was hoping to work out a ceasefire with the Mahdi Army that would allow British forces to exit Basra City and begin its eventual exit from Iraq. By this time the Blair government had given up accomplishing anything of substance in the country and simply wanted a way out. The UK would remain in Iraq until 2011 simply waiting for the day it could leave.
The Iraq Inquiry, The Report of the Iraq Inquiry, 7/6/16
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