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.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
Lucerne’s Hotel Château Gütsch, one of the lots in our Homeless Veterans appeal charity auction
charity appeal
Arts and Entertainment
Tony Hughes (James Nesbitt) after his son Olly disappeared on a family holiday in France
tv
News
people

Jo from Northern Ireland was less than impressed by Russell Brand's attempt to stage a publicity stunt

Sport
Scunthorpe goalkeeper Sam Slocombe (left) is congratulated by winning penalty taker Miguel Llera (right)
football
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
The Apprentice candidates Roisin Hogan, Solomon Akhtar, Mark Wright, Bianca Miller, Daniel Lassman
tvReview: But which contestants got the boot?
Life and Style
A woman walks by a pandal art installation entitled 'Mars Mission' with the figure of an astronaut during the Durga Puja festival in Calcutta, India
techHow we’ll investigate the existence of, and maybe move in with, our alien neighbours
Arts and Entertainment
Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels ride again in Dumb and Dumber To
filmReview: Dumb And Dumber To was a really stupid idea
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Ian McKellen tempts the Cookie Monster
tvSir Ian McKellen joins the Cookie Monster for a lesson on temptation
News
i100
Travel
Tourists bask in the sun beneath the skyscrapers of Dubai
travelBritish embassy uses social media campaign to issue travel advice for festive holiday-makers in UAE
Arts and Entertainment
Jennifer Saunders stars as Miss Windsor, Dennis's hysterical French teacher
filmJennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress
Sport
Nabil Bentaleb (centre) celebrates putting Tottenham ahead
footballTottenham 4 Newcastle 0: Spurs fans dreaming of Wembley final after dominant win
Life and Style
tech
Voices
Jimmy Mubenga died after being restrained on an aircraft by G4S escorts
voicesJonathan Cox: Tragedy of Jimmy Mubenga highlights lack of dignity shown to migrants
Life and Style
Sebastian Siemiatkowski is the 33-year-old co-founder and CEO of Klarna, which provides a simple way for people to buy things online
tech
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

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established media firm based in Surrey is ...

Ashdown Group: Java Developer - Hertfordshire - £47,000 + bonus + benefits

£40000 - £470000 per annum + bonus: Ashdown Group: Java Developer / J2EE Devel...

Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Director - London - £70,000

£70000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Controller - Fina...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive - Nationwide - OTE £65,000

£30000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This small technology business ...

Day In a Page

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
10 best high-end laptops

10 best high-end laptops

From lightweight and zippy devices to gaming beasts, we test the latest in top-spec portable computers
Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

The batsman has grown disillusioned after England’s Ashes debacle and allegations linking him to the Pietersen affair
Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

The Williams driver has had plenty of doubters, but hopes she will be judged by her ability in the cockpit
Adam Gemili interview: 'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

After a year touched by tragedy, Adam Gemili wants to become the sixth Briton to run a sub-10sec 100m
Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

Homeless Veterans campaign

Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

Meet Racton Man

Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

Garden Bridge

St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

Joint Enterprise

The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

Freud and Eros

Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum