Warlords replace Army in Basra

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The Independent Online

Warlords and criminal gangs dominate Basra amid growing concern that British forces have failed to create the conditions needed for political and economic reconstruction, warns an influential committee of MPs.

Gordon Brown's decision to cut troop numbers to just 2,500 next Spring could leave the Army unable to do more than defend itself, putting the value of its presence in Iraq "open to question", the MPs will say today.

The report by members of the all-party Commons defence committee welcomed falls in the number of attacks on British troops since they withdrew from the centre of Basra in the summer. But they noted that attacks on civilians in Basra had not declined and said security in the city was only maintained by warlords.

"Violence in Basra Province continues to undermine the development of civil society," the report said. "The relative security of Basra is said to owe more to the dominance of militias and criminal gangs, who are said to have achieved a fragile balance in the city, than to the success of the Multi-National and Iraqi Security Forces in tackling the root causes of the violence."

It added: "Although the reduction in attacks on UK forces can only be welcome, this alone cannot be a measure of success. The initial goal of UK forces in South Eastern Iraq was to establish the security necessary for the development of representative political institutions and for economic reconstruction. Although progress has been made, this goal remains unfulfilled."

The report said progress had been made in training members of the Iraqi army, but that progress in training Iraqi police had been "painfully slow"

It cast doubt on the decision to cut British troop numbers early next year, highlighting comments by the Armed Forces minister, Bob Ainsworth, in July, that a force of at last 5,000 troops was needed to fulfil its mission in the country.