U.S. Blamed for Baghdad Tension
Nicholas Watt and Richard Norton-Taylor
Saturday 24 May 2003
Britain says American military failure to secure capital threatens to delay reconstruction
Britain believes that heavy-handed tactics by the US military are to blame for America's failure to secure Baghdad, which threatens to delay the reconstruction of Iraq as foreign companies steer clear of the capital.
Tony Blair has been told in stark terms that American forces have exacerbated tensions because they have refused to mingle among the local population in the same way as British forces in Iraq's second city of Basra.
The finger of blame is being pointed at troops from the 3rd Infantry Division, the main US forces in Baghdad, who are said to be desperate to return home after bearing the brunt of the military campaign.
One source said: "In the capital the US forces have not adopted the mingling profile with the populace that has been a success in other cities. That is not the instinct of a heavily armoured division that has gone through a tough war."
The failure to secure Baghdad, which contrasts with successes by US and British forces in other parts of Iraq, will have grave consequences for reconstruction. It is understood that US corporations, such as Bechtel and the USAid government department, are reluctant to start repairing Iraq's infrastructure until Baghdad is safer.
Britain is pinning its hopes on the US 4th Armoured Division, which is due to replace the 3rd Infantry Division. "The US knows what they have to do but it is a question of effecting it," the source said.
There are signs that America is changing its tactics before the arrival of the new troops. In the past week US forces have stepped up patrols to crack down on crime and there is said to be evidence that random crime is reducing.
The change in American tactics is understood to be behind a decision by British commanders not to send troops to Baghdad. After days of agonising - and growing resistance from soldiers and their families - Britain has decided that the US can cope without UK reinforcements, though a final decision has yet to be made.
Senior defence sources said that British commanders have been caught between a desire to maintain good relations with the Americans and concern about being sucked into a situation it would be hard to get out of. "It is not in our interests to be drawn in," one source said.
British commanders have been discussing the issue with their American counterparts for days, prompting speculation earlier this week that elements of Britain's 16 Air Assault Brigade, including paratroopers, would be deployed to Baghdad from bases in southern Iraq. "The Americans were war weary and scratching their heads" about how to deal with the situation in the Iraqi capital, sources said.
John Sawers, the main British representative in Baghdad, underlined the challenges when he warned that the capital was a long way behind the rest of the country. Restoring power, water and other serviceswas proving difficult.
"Baghdad has not moved forward to anything like the same extent as the rest of the country," he said during a visit to London.
Mr Sawers added that he was encouraged by the appointment of Paul Bremer as President George Bush's envoy to Iraq to replace Jay Garner, who was widely seen as a disaster. Describing Mr Bremer as a "good thing", he said that he was beginning to "get a grip".
The difficulty in restoring normality to Baghdad mirrors the political challenges in forming an interim Iraqi authority as the first step towards establishing a sovereign government. Mr Sawers said that a national Iraqi conference, which will choose a broad based interim authority, would not be held until July at the earliest.
Amid the difficulties, Mr Sawers said that people should not lose sight of the "overwhelming sense of relief" in Iraq that Saddam Hussein has gone. But he added that he had no idea about the leader's fate.
"People would like to see his head on a stick to make sure he has gone. He is going to be like Elvis for a long time with rumours about his continued existence."