Saturday, September 24, 2005

Iraqi authorities assert independence in Basra

During the last week or so, the relations between UK forces in Basra and the local authorities (and the locals themselves) - once held up as an example to US forces, by the UK media at least, of urban military policing, have hit rock bottom. The incident was sparked when two men - believed to be undercover SAS operatives - were detained after a confrontation with local police; a confrontation in which, it is alleged, the men killed an innocent Iraqi civilian.

The Guardian reported that, after the incident, the locals took to the streets with loudspeakers, demanding that the men be detained an put on trial. The UK military then took the apparently astonishing decision to storm the jail in which the men were being held, and liberate them by force from the Iraqi authorities. Small wonder that those same authorities have since decided to cease cooperation with UK forces.

The row caused by this action, which, incidentally, was staunchly defended by the UK government as "swift and decisive action in very difficult circumstances", has been reignited now by the reissuance by an Iraqi judge of warrants for the arrest of the two men. The UK military continue to claim that, under the terms of an agreement between the two governments, British soldiersn are immune to prosecution. Interestingly, the judge in question has told the BBC that there is reason to doubt that the men in question are, in fact, British; this, he claims, is sufficient to give Iraqi courts jurisdiction rationae personae over them.

An interesting development, all things considered. The decision by UK forces to storm the prison to free the men seems astounding, both in terms of increasing difficulties with the local population, and also, of course, given that Iraq is, nominally at least, a "sovereign state". The reaction from the local authorities would seem to suggest that they are not, however, going to let the occupying forces have absolutely everything their own way. We'll see how things pan out, though...

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