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Britain takes a (another) misstep in Iraq [View All]

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NNN0LHI Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Aug-30-06 07:53 AM
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Britain takes a (another) misstep in Iraq
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http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Middle_East/HH30Ak02.html

As the British Army repositions in southern Iraq and considers troop pull-outs, an uncomfortable anniversary passes largely unnoticed.

British military commanders hoped the handover of a key base to Iraqi authorities would be a smooth one. But optimism has not been matched by reality. With 1,200 British troops just withdrawn from Camp Abu Naji, al-Amarah, jubilant Shi'ite militiamen from Muqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army are claiming victory.

<snip>But Townshend's laurel wreath was about to be snatched and flung into the Tigris. As at Gallipoli, Germany's wartime policy of providing military advisors for her Turkish allies again paid off. German Field Marshall Colmar von der Goltz promptly set about reorganizing Turkish forces even as the allure of taking Baghdad grew in Townshend's imagination. The British mounted a new attack on Turkish positions at Kut itself, succeeding more by accident than design. Townshend's subordinate, General Houghton, successfully carried the day despite becoming lost in the featureless landscape at the critical moment. But the British and Indian forces suffered heavy losses.

Next came Ctesiphon. Arriving in November 1915 at the site of this ancient battlefield, 30 miles southeast of Baghdad, once capital of the Persian Empire and dominated by a monumental arch, Townshend attacked the opposing Turks, inflicting over 9,000 casualties. But the price was high - 4,600 British and Indian troops lost across the exposed terrain. Townshend was unable to press home his advantage. He now made the critical error of falling back on Kut with the apparent aim of resisting an enemy siege.

Nemesis, in the form of three Turkish divisions led by von der Goltz, duly arrived. Townshend and 12,000 British and Indian troops found themselves besieged in Kut. Their forces were well dug in but starvation loomed unless a relief force could arrive in time.

A force was eventually sent under Lieutenant General Sir Fenton John Aylmer to resupply Kut by river steamer and repeated British frontal attacks were made. They all failed. The British lost a further 20,000 soldiers and the supply port of Basra became a choked bottleneck. Offers were made - by T E Lawrence - to bribe the Turkish besiegers with the sum of 1 million pounds. The Turks, rightly sensing victory, rebuffed all overtures. Inside Kut the defenders were now eating their horses. Emaciated from disease and hunger, 1,750 soldiers and an unknown number of civilians died. On April 29, 1916, after a siege of 146 days, Britain's most senior army commander, Lord Kitchener, authorized surrender.
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