Leading article: A timely reversal in Iraq

Share

The terms of trade in the debate over Iraq have shifted decisively. Only a few months ago, anyone who called for British troops to be pulled out was dismissed by the Prime Minister as, in effect, an appeaser who was assisting al-Qa'ida in its propaganda work. Last month,
The Independent on Sunday called for troops to be redeployed from Iraq to Afghanistan, with some withdrawal from Iraq possible early next year, reducing over 12 months to a token presence. We half expected to be condemned by ministers for undermining the morale of our troops, flouting the wishes of the democratic government of Iraq and inciting the insurgents to redouble their efforts. What we did not expect was that Margaret Beckett would agree with us.

Last Wednesday, the Foreign Secretary performed a most graceful manoeuvre in the House of Commons. So graceful that it was less of a U-turn and more of a parabola, a wide, sweeping arc. "There is no question of us cutting and running from Iraq," she began. A few sentences later: "That does not mean that things are standing still. Our approach has evolved significantly in recent months." So gradual was this evolution that few MPs realised the importance of her mention of transferring provinces to Iraqi control. "The progress of our current operation in Basra gives us confidence that we may be able to achieve transition in that province, too, at some point next spring."

We welcome this development of British foreign policy. Although this newspaper opposed the invasion of Iraq, we have the utmost respect for the British armed forces doing a difficult job in a dangerous situation. But it did them no good to insist that they must "see through" a mission impossible. What has changed? General Sir Richard Dannatt's defiance of Tony Blair last month was the significant moment. When the chief of the British Army says publicly that the presence of British forces "exacerbates" the security situation in southern Iraq, it becomes impossible to pretend otherwise.

The reality has not changed much since we "kicked the door in" in Iraq in 2003, to quote Sir Richard. The Western occupation was bound to be resented and to be a focus for nationalist violence. That was one of many reasons why this newspaper opposed the invasion. Yet, for most of the time since, we have not advocated British withdrawal because the consequences for the Iraqis in the south appeared to be worse if our troops left than if they stayed. That remains true of the US zone, including Baghdad. But Sir Richard's intervention confirmed that, in the British area around Basra, the calculation of least bad outcomes had shifted in favour of an early withdrawal.

We welcome Mrs Beckett's clarification of part of that timetable. But we wonder whether this might afford an opportunity to take stock of Britain's defence posture generally. We remain sceptical about whether British commanders have the resources they need to fight a necessary and winnable war in Afghanistan. Meanwhile, the debate about the future of Britain's semi-independent nuclear deterrent seems increasingly likely to take place after the Cabinet has reached its decision. What is needed is more of the kind of openness that Mrs Beckett demonstrated last week. When Des Browne, the Secretary of State for Defence, makes a speech to defence experts tomorrow, he has the chance to widen the public discussion of Britain's defence posture in general and our policy towards Iraq in particular. We encourage him to take it.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Quantitative Analyst (Financial Services, Graduate, SQL, VBA)

£45000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Quantitative Analyst (Financial Services, ...

Application Support Engineer (C++, .NET, VB, Perl, Bash, SQL)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Application Support Engineer (C++, .NET, VB, Per...

C# .NET Software Developer (Client-Side, SQL, VB6, WinForms)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: C# .NET Software Developer (Client-Side, SQL, VB...

C# Developer (Genetic Algorithms, .NET 4.5, TDD, SQL, AI)

£40000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Jihadist militants leading away captured Iraqi soldiers in Tikrit, Iraq, in June  

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

Robert Fisk
India's philosopher, environmental activist, author and eco feminist Vandana Shiva arrives to give a press conference focused on genetically modified seeds on October 10, 2012  

Meet Vandana Shiva: The deserving heir to Mahatma Ghandi's legacy

Peter Popham
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
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home