Thursday, August 24, 2006
The first British army camp to be handed to Iraqis was looted almost bare within days of the soldiers' departure. The transfer last month was widely heralded as a signal that Iraq would soon be ready to run itself.
But a British soldier said that as the last men drove away, they saw pick-up trucks being filled with valuable equipment.
Most items that could be removed were taken, including air-conditioning units, water filtration systems, chairs, bedding and kitchen utensils.
When the commander of British forces in southeast Iraq, Brigadier James Everard, discussed the matter with the province's governor he was told that the camp had "largely gone."
Military sources believe much of the looting was done by off-duty Iraqi soldiers and government officials. British officers privately say they blame the governor for much of the looting and believe some of the air-conditioning units are now in his private office.
The Iraqi and British governments had described the transfer of Camp Smitty on July 30, a base outside Samawah, as a key step in handing control of security back to Iraqis. But the looting casts doubt on official insistence that coalition troops are only withdrawing when local authorities are ready to assume their responsibilities.
British officials insisted the withdrawal was done only after rigorous assessment of the local government and Iraqi security forces.
Defense Secretary Des Browne said it was a step toward "building a stable and democratic future," and the Iraqi prime minister, who attended a handover ceremony in Samawah, had called it a "great national day."
The camp had been intended for use as an Iraqi army base. THE DAILY TELEGRAPH
Stephen Philion Assistant Professor Department of Sociology and Anthropology St. Cloud State University St. Cloud, MN