Baghdad, Asharq al-Awsat — British Defense Secretary Des Browne stated yesterday that the British and Iraqi troops in Basra city were on the verge of implementing a long-term security plan similar to the one underway in Baghdad.
Browne, who was in Baghdad on a surprise visit, said at a joint press conference with Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, “As it is known, there is a security plan in Baghdad and I am here to discuss a similar and identical security plan for implementing it in Basra city.” He added that the security plan “will be a long term one and will involve British and Iraqi forces in the city.”
Basra has been on a high security alert in recent weeks that has been marred by acts of violence which claimed the lives of dozens of people. Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, who visited the city early this month, imposed a state of emergency in it in an attempt to reduce the tension in the city resulting from the sectarian and partisan conflicts and the militias.
Browne said the plan would include “carrying out reforms in the Iraqi security forces in Basra” and added: “We are prepared to assist the security forces carry out their duties and will be there to give them help.” He underlined his country’s aspiration to turn over the security tasks in the southern governorates to the Iraqi forces and said: “Talks are continuing between the coalition forces and the Iraqi Government on this issue and it is up to the Iraqi side to determine what it believes to be proper.”
Some sources close to the British Embassy in Baghdad asserted to “Asharq al-Awsat” the British Government’s determination to withdraw almost 150 British soldiers from Basra Governorate during the coming few days. They hinted that the British defense secretary’s visit was timed to take place simultaneously with this undeclared withdrawal. Nine British soldiers were killed in Basra last month, some of them when a British helicopter was shot down and others from explosive devices.
Sheikh Yusuf al-Hassan, member of the secretariat general of the (Sunni) Association of Muslim Scholars and the imam of one of Basra’s Sunni mosques, was assassinated with three of his guards in the city last Friday. The Sunni Waqf office in Iraq tacitly accused Basra Governor Muhammad Salih al-Wa’ili (from the Shiite Al-Fadilah party) of covering up his killing. In a statement it issued the day before yesterday, it called on “Basra’s governor to take the (necessary) measures against this group (which carried out the assassination) since he knows it.” The Sunni office also accused “sectarian militias” in Basra of committing “terrorist actions, among them murdering, displacing, and terrorizing citizens and worshippers” and asserted that it decided “to close until further notice all Basra’s mosques apart from Al-Jami al-Kabir to protest what is happening in this city.”
The British secretary said: “The coalition forces will remain in Iraq as long as the Iraqi people and Government wish them to remain.” He added: “We are not underestimating the challenges facing the Iraqi Government and coalition forces in Iraq but the new government represents the entire political spectrum and this is important for achieving stability.”
The US and Iraqi forces began last Wednesday a security plan in the capital in which more than 50,000 soldiers are involved. But this plan has not stopped the violence in various parts of the country.