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Conditions in Southeastern Iraq Could Lead to British Force Reduction

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

BASRA, Iraq, Jan. 19, 2007 – Positive developments in southeastern Iraq may enable British leaders to reduce their troop strength in that region, a spokesman for Multinational Division Southeast said here today.

“Our political leaders are saying that if the conditions here continue to improve, we will have a reduction in force in the spring,” said British army Maj. Chris Ormond-King.

British officials were among the coalition military leaders who briefed Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates here today. Army Gen. George W. Casey Jr., commander of Multinational Force Iraq, met the secretary at the airport here, and British army Maj. Gen. Jonathan Shaw, commander of the Multinational Division Southeast, hosted the two for their visit.

In addition to British forces, Multinational Division Southeast includes soldiers from Romania, the Czech Republic, Lithuania, Denmark, Australia and the United States.

Conditions in southeastern Iraq differ greatly from those in Baghdad or the western province of Anbar. “The vast majority of the people in this area are Shiia,” Ormond-King explained. “So you don’t have the sectarian problems you do in and around Baghdad.”

In addition, he said, the area isn’t threatened much by Sunni insurgents. For example, he said, a Sunni al Qaeda terrorist trying to hide in Basra stood out because he was Sunni, and the local people turned him in to British troops.

The British believe Iran is supporting the Shiite population of Basra, but they have not found physical evidence of the connection, Ormond-King said. “The three means of influence are money, technical information and weaponry,” he said. “We simply have not found hard, physical evidence of the connection.”

But, he said, he does not doubt that the connection exists.

Militias in this region operate differently from those in Baghdad, Ormond-King said. Therefore, the people here regard them as well-armed neighborhood watch patrols.

“It’s only the rogue elements of these militias that attack us,” he said. “For the most part, the militias have to be brought in to become part of the solution here.”

A case in point was two militias that were fighting in Amarah in November, Ormond-King said. The Iraqi army went into the city and the two militias declared a cease-fire. “It has held since then,” Ormond-King said.

The experience also shows how Iraqis can work together if they need to, he said. Iraqis planned and executed the entire operation, and Iraqi political leaders forced the two militias to negotiate. “That has been the typical experience for us here,” the major said.

The British already have turned two provinces in the region over to Iraqi provincial control. There are no coalition soldiers in Muthanna and Dhi Qar provinces, and all security in those provinces is in the hands of Iraqi soldiers and police. Meysann province will be the next province turned over to Iraqi control, and that should occur shortly, Ormond-King said. Officials also hope that Basra province will be under Iraqi provincial control by the end of the year, he said.

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