BBC News | August 5, 2008

The British in Basra made a secret pact with the Mehdi Army which kept the military out of March’s Iraqi-led offensive against the Shia militia for a week, according to the Times newspaper.

The BBC’s Crispin Thorold, in Baghdad, assesses whether such an “accommodation” could have been possible.

In March this year the Iraqi security forces launched a major offensive against the Mehdi Army, a Shia militia, in Iraq’s second city Basra. From the beginning the British described that operation as “Iraqi planned, led and executed”.

But once again questions are being asked about why the British were so slow to put their troops on the ground in the city.

From the earliest hours of the Iraqi military operations in Basra it was clear that things were not going according to plan.

MoD denial

The resistance by Shia militiamen was much stronger than had been anticipated.

Yet British troops were only deployed from Basra’s airport into the city after nearly a week of fighting.

Could that decision have been dictated by a secret deal between the British and the Mehdi Army, as suggested by the Times?

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