UK troops worsen problems in Iraq: army head

By Deborah Haynes

Thu Oct 12, 2006

LONDON (Reuters) – The head of Britain’s army said the presence of British troops in Iraq was exacerbating the security situation on the ground and they should be withdrawn soon, according to a British newspaper.

General Sir Richard Dannatt also said in an interview with the Daily Mail newspaper that Britain’s Iraq venture was aggravating the security threat elsewhere in the world.

In unusually blunt comments for a serving senior officer, Dannatt told the Friday edition of the newspaper that the troops should "get … out sometime soon because our presence exacerbates the security problems".

Britain, Washington’s main ally in Iraq, has around 7,000 soldiers deployed, mainly in the south of the country.

The U.S.-led invasion to oust former president Saddam Hussein has come under heavy criticism, as the civilian death-toll mounts and British and U.S. troops are increasingly in the firing line.

Dannatt, who took over as Chief of the General Staff in August, said: "We are in a Muslim country and Muslims’ views of foreigners in their country are quite clear. As a foreigner, you can be welcomed by being invited in a country, but we weren’t invited certainly by those in Iraq at the time.

"The military campaign we fought in 2003 effectively kicked the door in. Whatever consent we may have had in the first place, may have turned to tolerance and has largely turned to intolerance. That is a fact. I don’t say that the difficulties we are experiencing round the world are caused by our presence in Iraq but undoubtedly our presence in Iraq exacerbates them."

Putting himself directly at odds with British Prime Minister Tony Blair and President Bush, the general criticized the post-invasion planning by the U.S.-led coalition.

"I think history will show that the planning for what happened after the initial successful war fighting phase was poor, probably based more on optimism than sound planning."

"The original intention was that we put in place a liberal democracy that was an exemplar for the region, was pro-West and might have a beneficial effect on the balance within the Middle East. That was the hope, whether that was a sensible or naive hope history will judge. I don’t think we are going to do that. I think we should aim for a lower ambition."

The Ministry of Defense declined to comment immediately on the comments. A spokesman at Blair’s office was not immediately available to comment.

In a snapshot of the daily chaos plaguing Iraq, gunmen stormed a television station in Baghdad on Thursday and shot dead 11 staff in the biggest attack yet on media in the country.

Iraqi media organizations, funded by religious or political groups, are frequent targets for militant groups as attacks by Sunni Arab insurgents and sectarian death squads continue to convulse the country, killing an estimated 100 people a day.

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