In last Friday’s “‘Mess-o-potamia’ Homage to Jon Stewart,” Pat Lang gave us links to writings by T.E. Lawrence. Lawrence’s “A Report on Mesopotamia” — written for the London Sunday Times eight-five years ago — would suffice for today’s news, with only a few insigificant word substitutions:

The people of England have been led in Mesopotamia into a trap from which it will be hard to escape with dignity and honour. They have been tricked into it by a steady withholding of information. The Baghdad communiques are belated, insincere, incomplete. Things have been far worse than we have been told, our administration more bloody and inefficient than the public knows. It is a disgrace to our imperial record, and may soon be too inflamed for any ordinary cure. We are to-day not far from a disaster.

On the heels of the weekend news that the British have scrapped plans to reduce their troop numbers in Iraq, which I reported here a few months back, along with the good news that the British would send another 5,000 troops to Afghanistan — and what will now become of that plan to help our forgotten stepchild Afghanistan? — comes another bloody disaster, which was ably and horrifyingly summarized today by Amy Goodman of Democracy Now:

UK Forces Attack Iraqi Jail To Free Two British Troops

     New questions about Iraq’s sovereignty are being raised after British forces attacked an Iraqi jail on Monday because they believed two detained British commandos were inside.

     British troops opened fire on the jail in Basra and used six armored vehicles to smash down the jail’s walls as helicopter gunships flew overhead.

     The provincial governor of Basra described the British assault as “barbaric, savage and irresponsible.” The Associated Press reported 150 prisoners escaped during the siege.

     As the British raided the prison, Iraqis started attacking the British vehicles with firebombs and rockets.

     One of the British armored fighting vehicles was set ablaze. Photos showed a British soldier on fire climbing out of the hatch and jumping to the ground, as a crowd pelted him.

     An Iraqi official said that the British soldiers were arrested after they had fired at an Iraqi police officer. At the time the British soldiers were undercover and dressed as Iraqis.

     After the prison was breached in Basra, the two soldiers were found not to be in the jail but in a nearby house.

     The British Army attempted to downplay the incident claiming that the men were released after negotiations. The government said it feared for the lives of the British commandos after discovering they had been handed to “militia elements”.

     The British attack on the Iraqi jail came one day after British forces arrested three members of the Shiite Mahdi Army.

Update [2005-9-20 22:25:6 by susanhu]: What I’ve read since I posted this leads me to question some facts in Goodman’s early morning report. Please see Londonbear’s comments below, which point to some possible erroneous early reporting by the AP, etc. Also please see Juan Cole’s attempt at a timeline of this confusing story.

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Meanwhile, two more Iraqi journalists are dead. Assassinated. And four Americans — a U.S. State Dept. official and three Blackwater employees — have been killed in a suicide car bombing. Fifty-two Iraqis died over the weekend, a Kurdish parliamentarian was assassinated, and the U.S. official troop death toll tops 1,900.

On Saturday afternoon as I laid down to rest my back, I read my print-outs of Pat’s downloads by T.E. Lawrence. I turned on the television, by pure chance catching the last hour of the gloriously restored “Lawrence of Arabia.”

Continued BELOW:
More from T.E. Lawrence’s report on Mesopotamia:

The Cabinet cannot disclaim all responsibility. They receive little more news than the public: they should have insisted on more, and better. They have sent draft after draft of reinforcements, without enquiry. When conditions became too bad to endure longer, they decided to send out as High commissioner the original author of the present system, with a conciliatory message to the Arabs that his heart and policy have completely changed.*

Yet our published policy has not changed, and does not need changing. It is that there has been a deplorable contrast between our profession and our practice. We said we went to Mesopotamia to defeat Turkey. We said we stayed to deliver the Arabs from the oppression of the Turkish Government, and to make available for the world its resources of corn and oil. We spent nearly a million men and nearly a thousand million of money to these ends. This year we are spending ninety-two thousand men and fifty millions of money on the same objects.

Our government is worse than the old Turkish system. They kept fourteen thousand local conscripts embodied, and killed a yearly average of two hundred Arabs in maintaining peace. We keep ninety thousand men, with aeroplanes, armoured cars, gunboats, and armoured trains. We have killed about ten thousand Arabs in this rising this summer. We cannot hope to maintain such an average: it is a poor country, sparsely peopled; but Abd el Hamid would applaud his masters, if he saw us working. We are told the object of the rising was political, we are not told what the local people want. It may be what the Cabinet has promised them. A Minister in the House of Lords said that we must have so many troops because the local people will not enlist. On Friday the Government announce the death of some local levies defending their British officers, and say that the services of these men have not yet been sufficiently recognized because they are too few (adding the characteristic Baghdad touch that they are men of bad character). There are seven thousand of them, just half the old Turkish force of occupation. Properly officered and distributed, they would relieve half our army there. Cromer controlled Egypt’s six million people with five thousand British troops; Colonel Wilson fails to control Mesopotamia’s three million people with ninety thousand troops.

We have not reached the limit of our military commitments. Four weeks ago the staff in Mesopotamia drew up a memorandum asking for four more divisions. …


The Government in Baghdad have been hanging Arabs in that town for political offences, which they call rebellion. The Arabs are not at war with us. Are these illegal executions to provoke the Arabs to reprisals on the three hundred British prisoners they hold? And, if so, is it that their punishment may be more severe, or is it to persuade our other troops to fight to the last?

We say we are in Mesopotamia to develop it for the benefit of the world. All experts say that the labour supply is the ruling factor in its development. How far will the killing of ten thousand villagers and townspeople this summer hinder the production of wheat, cotton, and oil? How long will we permit millions of pounds, thousands of Imperial troops, and tens of thousands of Arabs to be sacrificed on behalf of colonial administration which can benefit nobody but its administrators?

Not much has changed. Not at all.

Today, Juan Cole has several important articles on the British mess (and tragedy), including this report from Iranian television — which probably has quite a bit of truth in it, and which is surely not aiding our quest to win hearts and minds as it is rebroadcast worldwide, even on BBC:

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Iranian Television on Basra Tensions

BBC World Monitoring translated this report on Al-Alam, the Iranian Arabic-language satellite program, on Sept. 14:

September 14, 2005, Wednesday

Basra residents blame UK troop “violations” for increase in militant attacks

SOURCE: Al-Alam TV, Tehran, in Arabic 17:13 GMT, 14 Sep 05

Text of report by Iranian Arabic language television news channel Al-Alam on 14 September

[Presenter] In Basra, popular and official opinion has attributed the escalation in militant attacks against British forces in southern Iraq to their continuing violation of the rights of the residents, in addition to the lack of justification for theses forces to remain in the region.

[Correspondent N’amah Abd-al-Razzaq] Eight US and three British dead, and a further ten wounded. This is the toll of the militant attacks that have targeted the US and British forces in southern Iraq in the last week. This follows a clear escalation in the militant attacks targeting the foreign forces specifically in Basra.

These statistics are based on the reports published by the British forces in southern Iraq. However, some eye witnesses have indicated a larger toll, especially in the rocket attack that targeted the British and US consulates in the presidential complex. Because the site is completely fortified, it was impossible to confirm the final toll of the attack and everyone had to make do with the British story which denied that there had been any casualties.

Popular and official opinion in Basra says that this noticeable escalation in the level of militant operations is the result of the occupation troops overstepping the mark and continuing to violate the dominant values of Iraqi society.

[Amr Thamir Ali, traffic policeman] This is the result of the conduct of the British towards the people. [Words indistinct]

Read all of the BBC report and Cole’s comments.

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