U.K. Exit Leaves Basra's Future In Doubt

As CBS News chief foreign correspondent Lara Logan and a CBS News crew were heading into the southern city of Basra under armed Iraqi escort on Sunday, the only British troops left in town were packing up to leave.

British troops were handing over their base at Basra Palace the very next morning to the Iraqi Army's 10th Division and withdrawing to a British air base on the outskirts of the city.

While on the way to see the local governor, Logan reports that their lives were in the hands of his uncle and personal security force - the only men Gov. Mohammed al-Waili trusts in a city that's become a battleground for rival militias that have infiltrated the police force and tried repeatedly to kill him.

"Those policemen outside the front of your building, do you trust them" asked Logan.

"Not all of them," al-Waili replied.

The governor told Logan that the Iraqi Army is improving, but local forces, especially the police, are not yet ready to take over security, and that the British withdrawal has come too soon.

Security in Shiite-dominated Basra is critical to Iraq because the stakes are so high: The province holds at least 70 percent of the country's oil wealth and provides 90 percent of the government's estimated $21 billion revenues.

Reporter's Notebook: The Battle For Basra
But Shiite militias battling each other for power dominate this wealthy province, despite the presence of British forces.

The soldiers who began their mission here with soft hats and friendly greetings soon wore out their welcome. Two years ago, angry crowds in Basra stoned British soldiers as they rescued two comrades being held prisoner by a local militia.

Twenty-two British soldiers have been killed here in the last five months alone, and relentless attacks have succeeded in driving them off the streets.

There will be no British troops left in the city itself, but British officers insist that they won't be abandoning the people or their mission. They'll still be responsible for overall security throughout the province.

"We are not going to leave a security vacuum here. That would just be mindless," said Maj. Mike Shearer, spokesman for the British Army in Basra.

From their base, the British will continue to train and support Basra's security forces, but their goal is to hand the province back to Iraqi control by the fall.

"The policing of Basra City indefinitely by a foreign army is never going to be part of the end state here," Shearer said.

But the city is a no-go area for outsiders, and even local residents say they live in fear.

On the way out of town, Logan and crew visited the construction site of a new children's hospital. The governor's security shadowed their every move, and an armored car followed behind.

As Logan toured the heavily-guarded grounds, the foreman told her this had been his prison for seven months. As a Sunni from Baghdad, if he went into the city he would be killed.

The British insist their withdrawal to a single base outside of Basra is not a retreat, but there is concern among the U.S. that if British forces withdraw completely, American soldiers will have to head south to fill the vacuum they leave behind.

One of the reasons that's so important is that there are critical U.S. supply lines running up through Basra from Kuwait that U.S. troops would then have to protect themselves.
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