Operation Sinbad: Mission failure casts doubt on entire British presence in Iraq

'Rogue elements', politics and lack of manpower in Basra clean-up make limitations of coalition forces frighteningly clear. By Raymond Whitaker

An operation by British forces in southern Iraq to root out death squads and extend civic control in the city of Basra has hit political problems and resulted in a series of retaliatory attacks, The Independent on Sunday has learned.

About 1,000 British soldiers are taking part in Operation Sinbad, seen as a crucial test of the ability of the UK-led multinational force (MNF) in southern Iraq to "clean up" the country's second-largest city. Working with about 2,300 Iraqi troops, the aim is to cordon off areas of Basra one by one, take over police stations infiltrated by "rogue elements" and allow contractors to carry out quick projects aimed at boosting public confidence, such as repairing street lights and clearing rubbish.

But the MNF spokesman, Major Charlie Burbridge, said yesterday that since the start of the operation on 27 September, there had been a spate of "what appear to be co-ordinated attacks" on military convoys. "We are treating these as retaliation by the rogue elements we are targeting." No one had been hurt in the attacks, which numbered about four or five, the major said.

Although two soldiers, one British and one Danish, were killed in Basra last week, the attacks in which they died were not believed to be connected to Operation Sinbad.

The most sensitive side of the operation, intended to last until next February, is the insertion of Royal Military Police "transition teams" into police stations for up to 30 days at a time. Their task is to sort out policemen doing the job properly from those "unable or unwilling to perform their duties".

Many police stations in the city are alleged to be bases for corruption, organised crime and assassinations. "From time to time death squads turn up in Basra, sometimes in police cars," said Major Burbridge. "These are the people we are targeting." He denied that British forces were seeking to confront powerful Shia militias like the Badr Brigade and the Mahdi Army, which have close ties to the government, saying: "They are part of the structure of Iraq, but there are elements which have broken away, and are not under their central control."

According to other sources, however, there were doubts on the British side about the wisdom of the operation, and as soon as it started there were protests to Baghdad from the militias. "There was deep disquiet among British military commanders and diplomats in Iraq beforehand," said one source. "The Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, immediately demanded that the operation be heavily restricted in scope. It virtually came to a halt after one wave of raids, which demonstrated from the highest level to local militias that they can operate with impunity."

Louise Heywood, head of the UK armed forces programme at the Royal United Services Institute in London, and a Territorial Army officer who served in southern Iraq until earlier this year, saw Operation Sinbad as "almost a last attempt to be seen to be doing something" before security responsibilities are handed over to the Iraqi government, possibly in the first half of next year.

"The aim is to replicate what the Americans have been seeking to do in Baghdad, which is to go from neighbourhood to neighbourhood, clearing out the militias," she said. "But there are not enough British troops available."

Major Burbridge said there had been some initial political difficulties after the head of Basra's security committee, Major General Ali Hamadi, announced Operation Sinbad before it had been cleared by Baghdad. As a result, British troops had not taken part in the first round of raids.

"It is true that the Prime Minister had concerns whether the operation was aimed at sweeping all militias off the streets, but he was assured that it was targeted at individuals," said the spokesman. Last week, he added, British troops took part in the second phase of the operation, cordoning off an area of Basra for 48 hours before handing over to Iraqi forces, who would remain in place for another 10 to 12 days. The intention is to tackle each of the city's 18 districts in the same way, though some doubt whether Sinbad will be sustained beyond the beginning of next month, when British forces are due to change over.

Some analysts see the operation as epitomising the inability of coalition forces to influence events in Iraq. "Britain has never had the forces needed to make a sustained difference to law and order, and meaningful reconstruction is almost non-existent," said Dr Toby Dodge, an Iraq expert at Queen Mary College, London. "Their role is a minor one, and the question is whether it justifies the casualties and the cost"

The hope is that if security is handed over to the Iraqis in the first half of 2007, the way could be cleared for a significant reduction in the British deployment, from about 7,200 troops now to a little over 4,000. But such a drawdown, which service chiefs believe is essential to reinforce the British presence in Afghanistan, has been delayed several times by conditions on the ground in Iraq.

Early last month the Ministry of Defence announced an extra 360 soldiers were being sent to Iraq, including Royal Engineers to deal with roadside bombs, a boat troop to step up patrols on the Shatt al-Arab waterway and the military police now being deployed in the police stations.

Sport
Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi during Barcelona training in August
footballPete Jenson co-ghost wrote Suarez’s autobiography and reveals how desperate he's been to return
News
newsMcKamey Manor says 'there is no escape until the tour is completed'
Voices
Hunted: A stag lies dead on Jura, where David Cameron holidays and has himself stalked deer
voicesThe Scotland I know is becoming a playground for the rich
News
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Architect Frank Gehry is regarded by many as the most important architect of the modern era
arts + entsGehry has declared that 98 per cent of modern architecture is "s**t"
Money
Welcome to tinsel town: retailers such as Selfridges will be Santa's little helpers this Christmas, working hard to persuade shoppers to stock up on gifts
news
Arts and Entertainment
Soul singer Sam Smith cleared up at the Mobo awards this week
newsSam Smith’s Mobo triumph is just the latest example of a trend
News
Laurence Easeman and Russell Brand
people
Sport
Fans of Dulwich Hamlet FC at their ground Champion Hill
footballFans are rejecting the £2,000 season tickets, officious stewarding, and airline-stadium sponsorship
News
Shami Chakrabarti
people
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch has refused to deny his involvement in the upcoming new Star Wars film
filmBenedict Cumberbatch reignites Star Wars 7 rumours
Sport
football
News
news
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Maths Teacher

£110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for spe...

Business Analyst - Surrey - Permanent - Up to £50k DOE

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***ASP.NET Developer - Cheshire - £35k - Permanent***

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***Solutions Architect*** - Brighton - £40k - Permanent

£35000 - £40000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker