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

Recruitment Genius: Project Coordinator

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Project Coordinator is requir...

Recruitment Genius: Area Sales Manager - Midlands

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: PHP Developer - 3-4 Month Fixed Contract - £30-£35k pro rata

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a 3-4 month pro rata fi...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive - OTE £26,000+

£16000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Telesales Executive is requir...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Don’t pity me for eating alone, just give me a better table

Rosie Millard
Aerial view of planned third runway at Heathrow  

Heathrow expansion: This final 'conclusion' has simply fanned the airport flames

Chris Blackhurst
Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most
Katy Perry prevented from buying California convent for $14.5m after nuns sell to local businesswoman instead

No grace of God for Katy Perry as sisters act to stop her buying convent

Archdiocese sues nuns who turned down star’s $14.5m because they don’t approve of her
Ajmer: The ancient Indian metropolis chosen to be a 'smart city' where residents would just be happy to have power and running water

Residents just want water and power in a city chosen to be a ‘smart’ metropolis

The Indian Government has launched an ambitious plan to transform 100 of its crumbling cities
Michael Fassbender in 'Macbeth': The Scottish play on film, from Welles to Cheggers

Something wicked?

Films of Macbeth don’t always end well - just ask Orson Welles... and Keith Chegwin
10 best sun creams for body

10 best sun creams for body

Make sure you’re protected from head to toe in the heatwave
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon files

Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games
Women's World Cup 2015: How England's semi-final success could do wonders for both sexes

There is more than a shiny trophy to be won by England’s World Cup women

The success of the decidedly non-famous females wearing the Three Lions could do wonders for a ‘man’s game’ riddled with cynicism and greed
How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

One day to find €1.6bn

Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

Historians map out untold LGBT histories

Public are being asked to help improve the map