The British forces have started to prepare for a quiet pullout even though Britain is the second international and political power in Iraq. It is a partial pullout of around 1,500 soldiers within months but of much significance. The British deployment controls the south which is considered the revolving door with Iran and the area for the declaration of the Shiite independence which wishes to secede.
It is the political significance of the pullout that is more important and not the military one because the total number of the British forces is 7,000, that is, a drop in an ocean of 130,000 soldiers who make up the American forces.
Despite the withdrawal, British Prime Minister Tony Blair is fully convinced of the importance of remaining in Iraq until there is a strong political and security regime in Iraq in order to spare the country the danger of splitting apart. He expressed it persuasively in his paper to the Davos Forum last month. He believes firmly that a defeated exit means more crises for the world and not just for Iraq and therefore must stay the course. Therefore it came as a surprise when he insisted in January on staying and then talked only three weeks later about withdrawing more than a third of his forces and probably more.
The making of British policy differs from the American one. The prime minister is part of the party and it is the latter which governs. This happened to the most powerful Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, when her party relieved her even though Britain was on the brink of war to liberate Kuwait. She was forced to step down for another reason; namely, her insistence on imposing an unpopular tax that the Conservatives, her party, believed was a danger to their elections’ interests.
Regardless of his political beliefs, Blair is bound by the Labor Party’s policy and this has even prompted him to leave the cabinet at the end of this year because the party wants to get rid of his political legacy before the next elections.
In the United States, the President is called an emperor in his castle and not a servant in the party’s house. His decisions are final and he completes his years as president despite the party.
Blair’s party is pulled in different directions by two necessities: The need for the alliance with the United States and the need to win the elections. The majority of politicians believe that the alliance with the United States is an inescapable fate despite the concerns caused by the American leadership’s mismanagement of the crisis. Getting embroiled in a failed war will aggravate the internal situation, especially with British Muslims and make terror thrive. The constant truth in the British political scene is that any future prime minister, whether he is Conservative or Labor, will back US policy regardless of any elections promises. It is a matter of destiny that appeared very clearly in Britain’s war against Argentina; US support was behind London’s victory.
As to the Arabs who are blaming Blair and welcoming his departure, they do not realize that no prime minister will come who will disagree with the United States over the main issues. The last prime minister who did so was Anthony Eden during the British-French-Israeli aggression against Egypt crisis in 1956 when Washington opposed London and forced it to withdraw. Eden was forced to resign. Since then, no prime minister has entered “10 Downing Street” who has disagreed with Washington over a central issue.