Attack Iran, US chief ordered British
By Michael Smith, Defence Correspondent
America's military commander in Iraq ordered British troops to prepare a
full-scale ground offensive against Iranian forces that had crossed the
border and grabbed disputed territory, a senior officer has disclosed.
An attack would almost certainly have provoked open conflict with Iran.
But the British chose instead to resolve the matter through diplomatic
"If we had attacked the Iranian positions, all hell would have broken
loose," a defence source said yesterday.
"We would have had the Iranians to our front and the Iraqi insurgents
picking us off at the rear."
The incident was disclosed by a senior British officer at a conference
in London last week and is reported in today's edition of Defence
Analysis. The identity of the officer is not given.
"Some Iranian border and observation posts were re-positioned over the
border, broadly a kilometre into Iraq," a Ministry of Defence spokesman
The incident began last July when Revolutionary Guards pushed about a
kilometre into Iraq to the north and east of Basra in an apparent
attempt to reoccupy territory which they claimed belonged to Iran.
Lt Gen Ricardo Sanchez then ordered the British to prepare to send in
several thousand troops to attack the Revolutionary Guard positions.
The Revolutionary Guard Corps has 125,000 soldiers, making it 25 per
cent larger than the entire British Army, and is equipped with 500
tanks, 600 armoured personnel carriers and 360 artillery weapons.
The incident is reminiscent of the exchange during the Kosovo conflict
between the American general, Wesley Clark, the supreme allied commander
Europe, and Gen Sir Mike Jackson, the British commander.
When Gen Clark told Gen Jackson to send British troops into Pristina
airport to prevent Russian troops from taking control Gen Jackson
refused. He was reported to have said: "I am not going to start World
War Three for you."
The Iran-Iraq incident lasted around a week and was resolved by a
telephone conversation between Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, and
Kamal Kharrazi, his Iranian counterpart, British officials said.
"It did look rather nasty at the time," one official said. "But we were
always confident it was a mistake and could be resolved by diplomatic
means. We got in touch with Baghdad and said, 'Don't do anything silly;
we are talking to the Iranians.' "
While Mr Straw was trying to resolve the issue peacefully, British
military commanders on the ground were calming their Iranian
counterparts, the ministry said.
The Revolutionary Guard was believed to be behind the seizure of eight
Royal Navy and Royal Marines personnel last week after they strayed
across the disputed border between Iraq and Iran.
The eight men, who were delivering patrol boats to the Iraqi riverine
patrol service, were released - but not before they were paraded
blindfolded on Iranian television.
25 June 2004: Iran releases eight captured servicemen
23 June 2004: The uneasy truce is starting to break up
15 June 2004: UN nuclear watchdogs 'losing patience' with Iran