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UK Foreign Office Spokesman on British Forces Presence in Basra | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Bagdad, Asharq Al-Awsat- British Foreign Office Spokesman John Wilkes asserted that his country will keep its forces in southern Iraq and that it is currently working to establish normal relations with Iraq, “away from the resolutions, occupation, Chapter Seven, the United Nations, and everything.” He noted: “Everyone knows about US-Iraqi negotiations on signing an agreement regarding the US military presence in the future. Britain is not a party to these negotiations.” He added: “However, we will talk to the Iraqis about the future of the British military presence in Iraq when their negotiations with the Americans have been completed, and we will see how the Iraqi Government wants to establish its military relationship with us.”

In an interview with Asharq al-Awsat in Baghdad, Wilkes said: “In the past five years, we focused on southern Iraq, specifically Basra. The British presence in the south will continue. However, we currently want to develop our relations in the various political, economic, and cultural spheres with Iraq in general, not only with the south. This will be done through a good strategy devised to develop our relations with this country, which enjoys great financial resources and very huge oil output.” He added: “Nevertheless, Iraq’s problem is how to effectively spend funds to provide services and improve the infrastructure. These are key demands by the Iraqi people. This state of affairs makes it incumbent on Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki to focus on and provide these services. This is an important step to build mutual trust between the people and their government.”

The British Foreign Office spokesman was asked why the British Government or its leaders in Basra did not explain the many problems that the city suffers, particularly some political parties’ domination of the city’s resources, before they handed security over to the Iraqi forces. In reply to the question, he said: “Before the handover of security in the city, we stated that our strategy was limited to training and rehabilitating the Iraqi forces. We also said that the solution is in the hands of the Iraqis alone.” He added: “Therefore, we were pleased with the success of Operation Knight’ Assault because it showed that the security forces are ready to control the city. It is true that these forces asked us and the coalition as a whole to help them, and indeed we provided limited help. “He continued: “However, the leading role in carrying out Operation Knight’ Assault was played by the Iraqi forces. This operation is still in progress and we are currently implementing its 8th phase. We are ready to extend any assistance, but on the condition that we play an auxiliary role in support of the Iraqi forces.”

Wilkes disclosed that his country conducted an opinion poll in Basra on the presence of the British forces. He said: “I admit that the poll results showed that the majority of the city’s population do not like and do not want our forces’ presence. On the other hand, however, the same poll indicated that the entire residents sought to convey to us a message asking us not to leave behind chaos, Iranian domination, and militias.” He added: “Therefore, we will stay until we accomplish our mission and leave Basra in a situation better than that, which existed when we entered the city five years ago. Also, we seek to urgently improve the economic and security conditions. Secondly, we seek to build relations with this country, and this means that the British presence is currently more civilian than military.” Wilkes said: “London received over the past weeks senior Iraqi officials, particularly from Basra City, after the success of Operation Knight’ Assault. We received the Basra governor, members of the city council, and businessmen.” He added: “We held many meetings with them in the presence of British Prime Minister Gordon Brown with the aim of encouraging foreign and Arab investors to invest their funds in that city and explaining the opportunities that exist in it, now that the situation there has become stable.” Commenting on violations committed by the British forces in Basra, the British Foreign Office spokesman said: “We give a great deal of attention to such issues and take them seriously. For example, a British soldier was convicted in connection with the case of Baha Musa, and we opened a public and open investigation in the case.” He added: “We want to teach our soldiers a lesson. We always tell them not to get involved and not violate citizens’ rights. We do not approve of any violation, and when any British soldier violates human rights, we pay compensation to the wronged person. Yet, we say that our soldiers’ violations are few, and we seek to preserve our forces’ reputation.”