Paul Keetch: An exit strategy for Iraq

British troops should relocate to areas in the desert and outside the cities


When I first visited Iraq nearly three years ago, I was welcomed into Basra by a rejoicing local population, thrilled that their brutal dictator, Saddam Hussein, had been overthrown, and optimistic that a new dawn for their country was on the horizon. For a moment, I thought I was wrong to oppose the war.

At that time, one senior British soldier said to me: "They love us here, but if we are here in six months' time, they'll start to kill us." And here we are, nearly three years down the line and with over a hundred British soldiers killed, this premonition has become a reality.

In 2003, the US and British Governments had committed more than 200,000 troops to beat Saddam Hussein's army; they did not plan for, or commit, enough forces to win that peace. These fatal errors can be seen today, when the security situation can hardly be considered stable. I witnessed this first hand on a fact-finding mission to the country recently with the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee.

On my previous visit to Basra, we could walk around with troops in berets and some security, but basically we were free to move around as we pleased. However, the situation was very different on my recent visit. We would not leave the base; indeed, when walking from building to building in the compound we had to put on full body-armour. The security situation has deteriorated, kidnappings of foreign citizens are the norm in many of the larger cities, and roadside bombings are frequent.

These security concerns limited our movements on the ground and in fact meant that all our transfers were undertaken by low-flying helicopters. These circumstances also confirmed that the security situation is fragile, and the withdrawal of British troops must be carefully considered and executed to ensure long-lasting peace.

We have a moral duty to leave Iraq in a stable condition. What should be considered is, where possible, British troops should relocate to areas in the desert and outside the cities. From this position, troops would have an "over the horizon presence", offering training and logistical support to the Iraqi armed forces. This is the best course of action to secure stability and remove the possibility of a cycle of dependency beginning to be felt by many Iraqis.

One senior British officer said to me: "We need to persuade the Iraqis their destiny is in their own hands." It seems inevitable that troops will be here for some years to come and, as my colleague Ming Campbell expressed, this would not be best served by stringent withdrawal deadlines.

By relocating out of the cities, British troops would no longer be targets for insurgents. Currently the presence of coalition forces within cities has been a target for insurgent groups. This was highlighted by the recent deaths of British soldiers and attacks on the British embassy two days before I arrived in Basra.

At present, thoughts of democracy are not a priority for many Iraqis. Democracy has shown positive results in Iraq, illustrated by the huge turnout for the recent elections. However, speaking to trainee army recruits just outside Baghdad, it is evident democracy has not drastically changed day to day life. This misconception by the Western governments and the media that the Iraqi people are obsessed with their fledgling political democracy is absurd - ordinary Iraqis aren't interested; they just want to get on with their ordinary lives.

They want a constant supply of electricity, not the 38 minutes of power that Tikrit experiences per day; they want to walk their children to school and to shop at local supermarkets, free from the threat of suicide bombers. As was announced recently, oil and electricity production is below pre-war levels. It is clear that the promised reconstruction of Iraq after the fall of Saddam has fallen short of many Iraqis' expectations.

The US has pumped in more than $30bn (£17.2bn) of its own money into reconstruction; however, for nearly every dollar they spend on this, more than half is spent on security contractors, wasted on inefficiencies, siphoned off to individuals or has simply disappeared. Only recently, a former US official admitted stealing $2m meant for the reconstruction of Iraq. But against this waste, the UN High Representative does not have access to a helicopter to get around Iraq!

The British Government says we should stay for as long as the Iraqi government wants us to, but that runs the risk of them dictating the pace of change. We should set that agenda; we could pull out now and run the risk of anarchy or we could be honest with the British people and accept we are in Iraq for the long run. Neither option is palatable, but those who started this course of action and failed to see the consequences must now face the responsibility.

The writer is the Liberal Democrat MP for Hereford and a member of the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Data Insight Manager - Marketing

£32000 - £35000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based o...

Internal Communications Advisor - SW London

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Communications Advisor - SW...

Data Insight Manager

£40000 - £43000 Per Annum plus company bonus: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant - IT

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £40,000: SThree: Computer Futures has been est...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A doctor injects a patient with Botox at a cosmetic treatment center  

Why do women opt for cosmetic surgery when there is such beauty in age?

Howard Jacobson
James Foley was captured in November 2012 by Isis militants  

Voices in Danger: Syria is the most dangerous country in the world for journalists

Anne Mortensen
Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

Nick Clegg the movie

Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

Waxing lyrical

Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

Revealed (to the minute)

The precise time when impressionism was born
From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

Make the most of British tomatoes

The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
10 best men's skincare products

Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape