Michael Ware


TSR: More from Basra

Click photo to play
Length: 5:03

WOLF BLITZER: Britain has 7,500 troops in Iraq. Many fighting in Basra. Let's go there for a better sense of the situation. And joining us now, our correspondent Michael Ware. He's embedded with British forces in Basra in the southern part of Iraq.

Michael, you've heard of the comments of the British military commander, General Richard Dannatt, suggesting that the mere presence of British forces in Iraq is exacerbating the situation, making it worse. Does that coincide with what you're seeing and hearing on the ground?

MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Very much so, Wolf. I mean, the Brits are struggling to find a fine balance between their presence contributing to a stability and a safe and secure environment, yet also having that presence, as you say, exacerbate attacks.

Indeed, I had a British commander in the field tell me just a few days ago, before General Dannatt made his comments that he had redeployed his forces from their base, because essentially they were a magnet for attack. They were encouraging attacks in the province where this commander operates.

I've also just had a conversation with a very senior British diplomat here in Basra. And he says in many ways insurgent groups and militias gain political traction by attacking British forces. This is one of the currencies of political credibility here in the south and particularly in Basra.

The British diplomat suggested that after the withdrawal of British troops, which he's not suggesting occurs right now, these insurgent and militia forces will struggle to reclaim that credibility as they will no longer have a force to bounce off, that being the Brits.

And the Brits are under daily assault. In the last 24 hours, Brits just here in the city alone have been attacked seven times by small arms, roadside bombs, and mortars and 107mm Katyusha rockets -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Michael, we are showing our viewers pictures from all over Iraq. You spent a lot of time not only with British forces, but with U.S. military forces throughout Iraq over these past three-and-a-half years. Based on all those conversations, do U.S. military commanders feel the same way as this British commander, basically that Iraq, a Muslim country, doesn't want any foreign forces there?

WARE: Well, it's very clear that the American forces, indeed, all the coalition forces are seen as occupiers. That is an almost universal theme throughout the Arab parts of the country. Plus, there is the religious factor. It is a very easy call to arms, both for Sunni and Shia extremists, to attack coalition forces.

Indeed, al Qaeda describes them as, "this is where you can come and fight the great Satan itself," that being America. However, U.S. commanders, whilst they have echoed this idea from General Dannatt, that the presence alone of coalition forces encourages attacks, it is not such a firmly held belief among American commanders.

They recognize that it is a factor. However, they believe that their presence still remains for the greater good, despite any exacerbation of anti-American sentiment -- Wolf.

BLITZER: What about, Michael, this comment from General Dannatt suggesting that U.S., British, the international coalition, they had a pretty good plan to get rid of Saddam Hussein, to overthrow his regime, but didn't have much of a plan for the post-war. In other words, they were relying, in his words, more on optimism than any real, solid plan. What do you make of that?

WARE: Well, that's a very commonly held belief. And you don't have to scratch too deep beneath the surface to get top American or British commanders, nor the diplomats, to say that grievous errors were made in the early part of the occupation of Iraq.

Indeed, there are many disparaging comments that are made about the original coalition administration headed by Paul Bremer, key decisions to disband military forces in Iraq, the introduction of the de-Baathification program, and essentially this stripping away of the entire government apparatus.

These people now say that they are paying the price for these errors. In fact, they are saying that this has been the legacy that they are encountering and are still trying to combat today. In fact, one of these British diplomats said that we are not even at a standing start in some regards, we are at a handicap even now -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Michael Ware is our correspondent on the scene for us, embedded with British forces right now in Basra. Michael, be careful, thank you.

WARE: Thank you, Wolf.