Muqtada al-Sadr: The British are Retreating From Basra
By Nazr Latif and Phil Sands, Independent UK. Posted August 19, 2007.
Muqtada declares victory
The British Army has been defeated in Iraq and left with no option but to retreat from the country, claims radical Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. Violent resistance and a rising death toll among UK troops has forced a withdrawal, he said in an interview with The Independent.
"The British have given-up and they know they will be leaving Iraq soon," Mr Sadr said. "They are retreating because of the resistance they have faced. Without that, they would have stayed for much longer, there is no doubt."
The young nationalist cleric heads Iraq's largest Arab grassroots political movement, and its powerful military wing, the Mehdi army. It has clashed frequently with British forces in southern Iraq, most recently in the battle for power over the oil-rich port city of Basra. Scores of British soldiers have been killed and wounded by Sadrist militants.
"The British have realised this is not a war they should be fighting or one they can win," Mr Sadr said. "The Mehdi army has played an important role in that." He also warned that Britain's involvement in the invasion of Iraq had made the UK a less safe place to live. "The British put their soldiers in a dangerous position by sending them here but they also put the people in their own country in danger," he said. "They have made enemies among all Muslims and they now face attacks at home because of their war. That was their mistake." His comments came during two separate meetings with The Independent at the Sadr movement's headquarters in Kufa, a holy Shia city, 100 miles south of Baghdad, and site of the Grand Mosque where Mr Sadr often preaches fiery Friday sermons. The streets were eerily devoid of cars, which are, in effect, banned in an effort to prevent bombings. Senior Shia leaders are high on the list of targets for Sunni extremists.
Only two guards with AK-47 assault rifles appeared to be protecting Mr Sadr in his office, a clear sign that Kufa and the surrounding area is firmly under the control of Sadr loyalists. It is not patrolled by US troops and access is policed by Iraqi security at heavily armed roadblocks.
Mr Sadr's remarks echo those of senior British military commanders who have come to view the mission of UK forces in Iraq as finished. They have reportedly told the Prime Minister Gordon Brown there is nothing more to be achieved in southern Iraq and that troops should be redeployed to Afghanistan.
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