British ministers landing in Aden in the 1960s were told always to make a reassuring speech. In view of the Arab insurrection, they should give a ringing pledge, "Britain will never, ever leave Aden". Britain promptly left Aden, in 1967 and a year earlier than planned. The last governor walked backwards up the steps to his plane, his pistol drawn against any last-minute assassin. Locals who had trusted him and worked with the British were massacred in their hundreds by the fedayeen.
Iraq's deputy prime minister, Barham Salih, was welcomed to London by the BBC on Monday with two documentaries recalling past British humiliations at the hands of Arabs, in Aden and Suez. It was not a message Salih wanted to hear. His government is retreating from its position in May, when it said that foreign forces should withdraw from 16 out of 18 provinces, including the south, by the end of this year. Tony Blair rejected this invitation to go and said he would "stay until the job is done". Salih would do well to remember what western governments do, not what they say. ...
US and UK policy in Iraq is now entering its retreat phrase. Where there is no hope of victory, the necessity for victory must be asserted ever more strongly. This was the theme of yesterday's unreal US press conference in Baghdad, identical in substance to one I attended there three years ago. There is talk of staying the course, of sticking by friends and of not cutting and running. Every day some general or diplomat hints at ultimatums, timelines and even failure - as did the British foreign secretary, Margaret Beckett, on Monday. But officially denial is all. For retreat to be tolerable it must be called victory.
The US and British are covering their retreat. Operation Together Forward II has been an attempt, now failed, to pacify Baghdad during Ramadan. In Basra, Britain is pursuing Operation Sinbad to win hearts and minds that it contrives constantly to lose. This may be an advance on Kissinger's bombing of Laos to cover defeat in Vietnam and Reagan's shelling of the Shouf mountains to cover his 1984 Beirut "redeployment" (two days after he had pledged not to cut and run). But retreat is retreat, even if it is called redeployment. Every exit strategy is unhappy in its own way.
Over Iraq the spin doctors are already at work. They are telling the world that the occupation will have failed only through the ingratitude and uselessness of the Iraqis themselves. The rubbishing of the prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki, has begun in Washington, coupled with much talk of lowered ambitions and seeking out that foreign policy paradigm, "a new strongman". In May, Maliki signalled to Iraq's governors, commanders and militia leaders the need to sort out local differences and take control of their provincial destinies. This has failed. Maliki is only as strong as the militias he can control, which is precious few. He does not rule Baghdad, let alone Iraq. As for the militias, they are the natural outcome of the lawlessness caused by foreign occupation. They represent Iraqis desperately defending themselves from anarchy. It is now they who will decide Iraq's fate.
Simon Jenkins in The Guardian