'Half a million troops needed to bring Iraq under control'

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The Independent Online

There was mounting criticism of Britain's response to the deteriorating security situation in Iraq in the wake of the ambush in Basra that killed three Royal Military Police.

Several leading defence experts called for more troops to be drafted in, and a groundswell of voices calling for the entire security operation to be put under the aegis of the UN was beginning to grow.

Glenda Jackson, Labour MP for Hampstead and Highgate, said yesterday: "Since the official ending of the war we have reached the 'classic guerrilla war phase'. The UN should have been in the driving seat, the UN has experience in post-occupation operations. There has to be an international effort in Iraq. Otherwise those who would argue that it is a US-led occupation are going to win that argument."

Others were insistent that, at the very least, troop numbers are greatly increased. Yesterday a number of defence analysts warned that the deaths of three British soldiers in Basra mark the early days of an insurgency campaign in the south.

Major Charles Heyman, editor of Jane's World Armies, said: "I'm afraid [yesterday's] attack was just a matter of time. Over the last two weeks we have seen a good indication of what is to come. Today's deaths were predictable, as is, I'm afraid, a low-level insurgency campaign against the occupying forces in Basra and southern Iraq in the future.

"There's no way you can get away from it - it is desperate news. Basra has been simmering for some time." He added that more "boots" were needed on the ground. "We are going to need a different level of security."

Former officer and defence expert Michael Yardley said these were not random attacks. "We were always going to see an extended guerrilla campaign against allied forces. We know that Saddam Hussein planned for this contingency - to resist unconventionally.

"It has been suggested that these are random attacks but they are more than that, although we can't be sure who is responsible - Jihadists, remnants of Saddam Hussein's intelligence or Fedayeen militia. You need at least half a million troops to police this country effectively, which we do not have. Either the intelligence assessment was deficient or George Bush and Tony Blair were willing to take an unacceptable degree of risk in this campaign."

Britain and the US are now seeking to increase the number of countries contributing troops to Iraq.

President Bush wants more countries to send troops to participate in the occupation of Iraq, but faces resistance to any new UN mandate without an expansion of the international body's political and economic role in Iraq.

A British military spokesman in Basra said yesterday that security arrangements were"under constant review" and local commanders would act according to perceived threats.

He added: "Our view is that we have sufficient troops. We have plans in place to bring in reserves should they be required. That decision has not been made." Meanwhile, the cost in lives continues to rise.

However one characterises the four months of sabotage, terrorism and ambushes that have marked the "post-war" period, the cost is growing.

Since 1 May, 135 US troops have been killed, 64 of them in combat, a rate of attrition which, if it continued at the present rate, would mean that Mr Bush would be presenting himself for re-election in November 2004 with a record of some 700 US troops dead since the war's declared end.

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