Former Army Commander: Withdrawing UK Troops From Iraq Would Be A 'Setback'

Lieutenant General James Bashall was in charge of British forces in Basra for part of Operation Telic.

A former British Army commander says a withdrawal of UK troops from Iraq would be a 'setback'.

It follows the Iraqi parliament's vote to expel all foreign forces from the country, following the killing of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani last week in an air strike.

Lieutenant General James Bashall was in charge of British forces in Basra during Operation Telic.

Speaking to Forces News, he emphasised the political nature of such a decision, saying it needs to be an option, but added: "I think it would set back a lot of the work that's been done over many years if at this stage we were to withdraw."

All nations in the US-led coalition in Iraq, including the UK, had their training role of teaching Iraqi forces "paused".

Around 400 UK soldiers are deployed to three different sites in Iraq - Camp Taji near Baghdad, Union III in Baghdad, and Erbil in Iraqi Kurdistan.

German soldiers stepping off plane in Jordan after relocation from Iraq
Some of Germany's soldiers in Iraq have been moved out of the country (Picture: Bundeswehr).

Lt Gen Bashall said he expects UK forces will "liaise closely with the Americans" and "review all force protection measures".

The heightened tensions in the Gulf would bring about "an enlivening moment for people in theatre", he added.

"I think if you're in theatre and something like this happens, it definitely heightens the tension and you feel yourself having to raise your own game to be ready for the unexpected that may come."

The Prime Minister has said General Soleimani's death should not be lamented - a sentiment echoed by Lieutenant General Bashall: "[General Soleimani] was known to us as a shadowy figure who commanded the Quds force, and those forces themselves then provided Iraqi militia in Basra when I was there, with explosive form projectiles and weapons which were used against us.

"He's always been in the background but he's had a much more public profile in recent times.

"So we were always aware of him, knew who he was, but as I said he never exposed himself and nor did his troops."

Crowds during funeral of Qassem Soleimani and Abu Mahdi al-Mohandes in Tehran
Crowds during funeral of Qassem Soleimani and Abu Mahdi al-Mohandes in Tehran (Picture: PA).

Lt Gen Bashall said despite General Soleimani's loss to the Iranian regime, he can be replaced.

"He has both battle experience, combat experience as well as he has a huge network and relationship across the region which is used to enhance Iranian influence.

"He's not totally indispensable."

What does the former Army commander think may be the biggest potential threats for UK armed forces in the region looking ahead?

"We don't know yet what the intelligence was that prompted this and the threats or activity that Soleimani and his people may have been about to undertake.

"So on the ground they need to think, well what else could happen now, what other attacks could come and therefore the focus will be on contingency planning, force protection, liaising with allies and trying to get a sense of the atmosphere and the likelihood of potential further attacks."