Promised: Autonomy for British Command, Post-War Assets in Iraq

A few incautious words from US defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld on Tuesday March 11 raised such shock and dismay at 10 Downing Street that before the day was out he had to backtrack. What he said was that the United Kingdom’s role is unclear because of Tony Blair’s difficulties in convincing parliamentary rebels of the need for military action. Asked if the United States would go to war without its closest ally, the defense secretary said that issue would be addressed by the president, adding: “To the extent they are able to participate… that would be welcome. To the extent they’re not, there are workarounds and they would not be involved, at least in that phase.”
Gleeful anti-war rebels in Blair’s Labor party seized on Rumsfeld’s words. As one put it, “They can do it without us and give Tony Blair the chance to get out of the hole if he wishes.”
Four hours later, Rumsfeld issued a retraction saying he had no doubt in a significant military contribution from the United Kingdom.
But the damage was done. Blair’s chances of surviving the furor in his camp – as he worked against the odds to gain support for the British-US Security Council resolution legitimizing military action in Iraq – had dipped disastrously.
At stake was a great deal more than a mere “military contribution”, as DEBKA-Net-Weekly reported from its military and intelligence sources last Friday, March 7:
US President George W. Bush has decided to reward his only European ally, British prime minister Tony Blair, by restoring a measure of Anglo-power to the Middle East.
But first, the British will win a perk in the war itself. The British military have been allotted their own command in Kuwait and southern Iraq, under which some US units will also serve. Although the British command will be subordinate to the supreme war commander, US General Tommy Franks, it will enjoy full autonomy in the field.
Like the British, Turkish forces will also operate under their own command in northern Iraq, cooperating with Frank’s war headquarters through Turkish and US liaison officers.
These moves by the White House have put paid in advance to the avowed American goal of preserving Iraq’s territorial integrity. They will effectively partition Iraq into three or possibly four military zones after the war is over. For DEBKA map of zones click HERE.
The American zone will stretch from the northern oil fields, taking in the cities of Kirkuk and Mosul as well as Baghdad and Tikrit in the central sector and the southern city of Nassririyah – up to the Kuwaiti border.
Bush’s decision to carve out a British military zone in southeastern Iraq is by far the most spectacular strategic and political news for post-war Iraq. This gesture was made by the US president to help British prime minister Tony Blair weather the opposition he has raised at home and in Europe at large by joining the US-led coalition against Iraq as senior ally. In a recent opinion poll, only 31 percent of the Britons canvassed supported his policy, a disapproval rating Bush hopes to reverse by granting Britain pride of place in the Iraqi campaign and its aftermath.
For the first time since World War Two, therefore, a British officer will be in direct command over American troops.
The British army will, furthermore, have military jurisdiction over a triangular sector in southeastern Iraq, a sector that extends from Basra in the east, Sug Al Shuyukh in the west and Khozistan in the north. This wedge of land includes such strategic assets as the oil fields of the Basra and the Khozistan regions, Al Qurnah in the east and the Hawr Al Hammar southern marshlands up to the Iranian border, which British and American units will jointly patrol.
The oil fields in the south, like those in the north, will be under American administration. The British have been given to understand that a portion of oil revenue will be allotted to defray their military expenses and the costs of maintaining an army in Iraq.
The strategic implications of Britain’s role in the Iraq war transcend Iraq’s borders and cannot be overstated. Their command of the Iraq-Iran frontier zone abutting Iraqi Shiite regions transforms the UK into the dominant military force in the power equation between Tehran and the largest Shiite community in the Gulf, numbering 12-14 million. The mullahs of Teheran will have to watch their step – not only with regard to Washington but also to London.
Though he snubbed the British when they sought a military role in the 2001 Afghan War, Bush is sufficiently hard pressed by international isolation to grant Britain sweeping concessions at the expense of the European powers opposing US policies. President Bush is going so far as to put British feet on the ladder for climbing back into the Middle East positions of influence Great Britain forfeited in 1956 to 1958 when it was forced by President Dwight Eisenhower to abandon British holdings “East of Suez” and pull up its stakes in Jordan which was then beset with riots against King Hussein’s throne.
The exact details of the secret Bush-Blair understandings are still unknown. But the US President is clearly determined to grant Britain strategic assets of the first order in return for prime minister Blair’s unstinting support on Iraq. By the same token, he will make sure that the leaders who opposed him — French president Jacques Chirac, German chancellor Gerhardt Schroeder and Russian leader Vladimir Putin – will end up losers on the Middle East and the Gulf scene.
The success of that maneuver will depend on Blair`s survival, which Wednesday, March 12, came into question.

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