The Commons is a weblog for concerned citizens of southeast Iowa and their friends around the world. It was created to encourage grassroots networking and to share information and ideas which have either been suppressed or drowned out in the mainstream media.

"But if the cause be not good, the king himself hath a heavy reckoning to make, when all those legs and arms and heads, chopped off in battle, shall join together at the latter day and cry all 'We died at such a place;' some swearing, some crying for a surgeon, some upon their wives left poor behind them, some upon the debts they owe, some upon their children rawly left. I am afeard there are few die well that die in a battle; for how can they charitably dispose of any thing, when blood is their argument? Now, if these men do not die well, it will be a black matter for the king that led them to it; whom to disobey were against all proportion of subjection." (Henry V, Act V, Scene 4)

Monday, October 30, 2006

British to evacuate consulate in Basra after mortar attacks

British to evacuate consulate in Basra after mortar attacks

By Thomas Harding in Basra
Last Updated: 8:56am GMT 30/10/2006

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The British consulate in Basra will evacuate its heavily defended building in the next 24 hours over concerns for the safety of its staff.

Despite a large British military presence at the headquarters in Basra Palace, a private security assessment has advised the consul general and her staff to leave the building after experiencing regular mortar attacks in the last two months.

The move will be seen as a huge blow to progress in Iraq and has infuriated senior military commanders. They say it sends a message to the insurgents that they are winning the battle in pushing the British out of the southern Iraqi capital, where several British soldiers have died and dozens have been injured.

The evacuation also comes halfway through Operation Sinbad, which has experienced some success in restoring control in Basra. The operation ends early next year but Basra will need massive investment by the Foreign Office and the Department for International Development to build on its successes.

Without the British officials' presence the stability of the city's fragile economy and political infrastructure could unravel, paving the way for Iranian-influenced militias to take control. There are about 200 staff at the impressive consulate building - formerly one of Saddam's palaces - including a team of bodyguards and ex-Gurkha guards. There were 12 full-time staff, some hand-picked by Tony Blair.

A handful have already left by helicopter and the rest are expected to go this week, some of them to Basra air station eight miles outside the city and the rest back to Britain. A skeleton staff will continue to man the building until it is deemed safe enough for the rest to return. A Foreign Office spokesman insisted last night that its officials were "not bailing out".

"This is a temporary measure as a response to increased mortar attacks," the spokesman said. "Core staff will remain at Basra Palace and the consulate will continue to maintain a full range of activities."

The Foreign Office and Dfid operation in southern Iraq has been criticised for the poor handling of economic and political regeneration in the area.

While £14 million has been spent on refurbishing the consulate, including a new portico, hardened roof defences and swimming pool, it has spent just £12.5 million on reconstruction that included repainting a tower in the city.

The palace, which is surrounded by a 30ft blast wall and graced with manicured lawns, is in the same fortified compound as 800 British infantry.

Major Charlie Burbridge, the British military spokesman in Basra, said: "We believe very strongly that the Foreign Office and other agencies are critical to the long term solution in Iraq. We have worked closely in our shared endeavour and will continue to do so."


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