AS a former Defence Secretary in a British government Michael Portillo is entitled to say what he thinks on military matters. And in the Sunday Times at the weekend he said that the plans for British forces to leave Iraq by the middle of next year will represent “the most inglorious withdrawal since Sir Anthony Eden ordered the boys back from Suez” in 1956. I was in Suez at that time and I can recall the anger among officers and men that their advance along the Canal had been halted for unexplained reasons and that they were to be replaced by United Nations peacekeepers. I doubt that there will be many complaints from the troops in Basra about their impending departure. Britain had to leave Suez because the American administration of former general Eisenhower thought the intervention was old-style colonial in character and upstaged the US as the only western superpower ; when sterling collapsed dramatically Eden sounded the retreat. Interestingly, Michael Portillo attributes Britain's relative failure in Iraq to American commanders who formed a poor view of our tactics, equipment and competence.

But he puts most of the blame on Tony Blair for committing Britain to a task for which it was not well enough prepared and later for insisting on troop reductions because of the unpopularity of the war at home.

If and when there is an inquiry in Britain into the Iraq war it must cover everything up to the withdrawal from Basra.


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