Borderline Case: Brits Join Bush Push for Iran Provocation

Following up on the previous post about the new American base now being built on the Iraq-Iran border, we find the Independent reporting that UK troops are also being sent to the volatile line, there to dangle themselves as tempting targets for an Iranian "provocation" -- or, as Tehran claims, to join the Americans in staging their own cross-border provocations with raids on Iranian soil.

This is not the first time the Brits have bellied up to the border, of course. As I reported at Truthout last year, 600 of the Queen's Royal Hussars were deployed toward Iran after the British abandoned one of their major bases, Abu Naji, in the face of mounting attacks from the supposedly friendly Shiites of the south:

The Queen's Royal Hussars, 1,200-strong, abruptly decamped from the three-year-old base last Thursday after taking constant mortar and missile fire for months from those same friendly Shiites. The move was touted as part of a long-planned, eventual turnover of security in the region to the Coalition-backed Iraqi central government, but there was just one problem: the Brits forgot to tell the Iraqis they were checking out early - and in a hurry.

"British forces evacuated the military headquarters without coordination with the Iraqi forces," Dhaffar Jabbar, spokesman for the Maysan governor, told Reuters on Thursday, as looters began moving into the camp in the wake of the British withdrawal. A unit of Iraqi government troops mutinied when told to keep order at the base - and instead attacked a military post of their own army. By Friday, the locals had torn the place to pieces, carting away more than $500,000 worth of equipment and fixtures that the British had left behind. After that initial, ineffectual show of force, the Iraqi "authorities" stepped aside and watched helplessly as the looters taunted them and cheered the "great victory" over the Western invaders.

The largely notional - if not fictional - power of the Baghdad central government simply vanished while the forces of hardline cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, which already controls the local government, stepped forward to proclaim its triumph and guide the victory celebrations in the nearby provincial capital, Amarah. "This is the first city that has kicked out the occupier!" blared Sadr-supplied loudspeakers to streets filled with revelers, as the Washington Post noted in a solid - but deeply buried - story on the retreat...

And where are Her Majesty's Hussars now? Six hundred of them have dispersed into guerrilla bands in the wilderness, where they will survive on helicopter drops of supplies while they patrol the Iranian border. The ostensible reason behind this extraordinary operation is two-fold, said the doughty Burbridge: first, to find out if the Bush administration is up to its usual mendacious hijinks in claiming that the evildoers in Iran are fuelling the insurgency among the happily liberated Iraqi people; and second, to do a little more of that Iraqization window dressing before finally getting the hell out of Dodge completely, beginning sometime next year, according to reports across the UK media spectrum.

Of course, the good major didn't put it quite like that. "The Americans believe there is an inflow of IEDs and weapons across the border with Iran," he told the Post. "Our first objective is to go and find out if that is the case. If that is true, we'll be able to disrupt the flow." The second aim is training Iraqi border guards, he added.

Yes, a few hundred men wandering through the wasteland, dependent on air-dropped rations, will certainly be able to seal off an almost 300-mile border [in the south] riddled with centuries-old smuggling routes. And modern-day Desert Rats rolling up in bristling Land Rovers to isolated villages where Shiite clans span both borders will no doubt be gathering a lot of actionable intelligence from the locals. And of course it is much easier to "train Iraqi border guards" on the fly in the wild than at a long-established base with full amenities and, er, training facilities.

Not surprisingly, the Brits later abandoned this pointless meandering. But now the Bushists are putting the pedal to the metal in their manic drive toward war with Iran, and so it's back to the border for the Hussars. The move is part of new PM Gordon Brown's wobbly balancing act, as he tries to effect a slow, surreptitious withdrawal of UK troops from Iraq without angering the overlords in Washington or appearing to repudiate totally the disastrous war policies of his predecessor, Tony Blair -- policies in which Brown, as the most powerful member of Blair's cabinet, was fully complicit.

The Independent also notes what the American corporate media has largely overlooked: that in the shameless, Soviet-style propaganda exercise that General David Petraeus conducted with FOX News this week (well hammered by Glenn Greenwald), the U.S. commander

strongly implied that it would soon be necessary to obtain authorisation to take action against Iran within its own borders, rather than just inside Iraq. "There is a pretty hard look ongoing at that particular situation" he said....

The decision to return to the frontier has been heavily influenced by the highly charged and very public dispute with the United States. British commanders feel that they cannot turn down the fresh American request for help after refusing to delay the withdrawal from Basra Palace.

Thus Brown is sending a small band of British troops to join the 200 American troops (and a clutch of Georgians) on the border. Again, as we noted previously, this is not a sufficient number of troops to actually interdict any arms smuggling from Iran. They are simply there as bait, as sitting ducks for any Iranian response to the continuing campaign of sanctions, covert ops and terrorist attacks that the Bushists are conducting against Tehran.

So while the imperial fan dance goes on in Washington, with oceans of newsprint and blizzards of pixels devoted to the general's teasing prance across the media stage, the old bloodbath rages on in Iraq -- and the new bloodbath being prepared by the White House comes ever closer.