LONDON (AP) – The outgoing commander of British forces in Iraq says he is confident that the southern city of Basra will not again fall under control of militias, but was cautious about predicting how rapidly Britain could withdraw its forces.
Maj. Gen. Barney White-Spunner said in a BBC interview broadcast Friday that he believes improvements in the security situation are irreversible and that the militias were no longer a threat. “They’re not coming back, because the people of Basra will not have them back,” said White-Spunner, who has just returned from a six-month tour in Iraq, where Britain has 4,100 troops.
“The Basrawis realized what a nightmare literally that was. They’re not going to put themselves back through that period of violent extremism. They’ve got better things now to do with their lives, and I do not see Basra coming back under militia control. Those days are past.” However, he said the threat of violence had not ended.
“Some will continue to try and attack us and the Iraqi security forces because between us … we have frustrated their designs,” he said.
“And there are violent extremists around who for whatever their perverted motives will try and slow down Iraq’s irreversible recovery. But they won’t succeed. Because with the Iraqi security forces we are building a counterterrorist structure in Basra that will be proof against them.”
Regarding troop levels, White-Spunner said that “as security improves, as Iraqi security force improve, there’s going to be scope obviously for the government to review those numbers.”
“I think there will be a fundamental mission change and the troop numbers will be tailored to what that mission is,” he added. “It’s not really helpful to speculate at the moment but as security improves, and as the Iraqi security forces improve their capabilities as they are doing daily, then obviously there is scope for numbers to be reviewed.”
In an interview with The Guardian newspaper published on Friday, White-Spunner painted a very upbeat portrait of Basra.
“Property prices have more than doubled since March. One house is going for 90,000 pounds (US$170,000), a threefold increase,” he said. Christians and Sunni Muslims are returning to the city, and Kuwaitis and others are buying property, he said. “The U.K. is getting close to what we set out to achieve,” White-Spunner was quoted as saying.