The British press has had stories about this, but the American press has been relatively quiet about this story. From the AP via IHT:
BASRA, Iraq: Shiite militiamen from the Mahdi Army took over the police joint command center in Basra on Sunday after British soldiers withdrew from the facility and handed control to the Iraqi police, witnesses said.
Police left the building when the militiamen, loyal to anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, arrived, the witnesses said.
The British military disputed the reports, saying they had been in contact with the Iraqi general in charge of security in Basra, who has said the Mahdi Army was not there.
But the witnesses said the Mahdi Army emptied the building — taking generators, computers, furniture and even cars, saying it was war booty — and remained there in the early evening.
The British military had maintained a small number of soldiers at the command center to help train Iraqi police.
There's, of course, more to the story, as the Brit press notes. From the Independent:
US 'will not stop' British pull-out at Basra Palace
By Marie Woolf, Political Editor
Published: 26 August 2007
British troops will withdraw to the last military stronghold in Iraq imminently, and will not be "swayed by domestic political considerations" – including relations with the US – senior government sources said yesterday.
Defence ministry insiders confirmed last night that Britain plans to stick to its timetable to pull out of its stronghold at Basra Palace "within days or weeks", despite misgivings from US military and government figures that local Iraqi forces are not ready to take control.
US commanders in Baghdad want Britain to delay the pull-out of 500 British troops, fearing the Iraqi security services are not sufficiently well trained or equipped to control lawlessness.
But in frank discussions between British and American military commanders on the ground, Britain has made it clear it believes the Iraqis are perfectly capable of taking over as early as next week.
The pull-out to Basra airport will have a significant impact on the safety of British troops who are the target of increasingly frequent attacks.
From The Sunday Herald:
Iraq: The end?
The future presence of allied troops in Iraq is uncertain, as army chiefs voice criticism and the death toll keeps on rising. By Diplomatic Editor Trevor Royle
GENERALS RARELY make off-the-cuff comments. Everything they say is measuredandcarefully controlled; after all, lives could depend oneverywordand nuance. That's why senior commanders and politicians on both sides of the Atlantic sat up and took notice when General Jack Keane, formerly of the US army, accused his opposite numbers in the British Army of "general disengagement from the key issues around Basra".
It was not just that Keane was engaging in a high-profile spat with his country's closest allies in the coalition forces occupying Iraq...
Rather, the general's comments mean it is now open season on the future military policy of coalition forces in Iraq. Even before Keane made his statement it was no secret that Britain would be giving up its main base in the city at Basra Palace and soon reducing its troops to 3000 to protect the air bridge at the main airport. Following a visit to the area, Keane made his position perfectly clear and, considering his close links with the White House, it seems likely that his views are shared by President George Bush and his administration.
"The Brits," said Keane, "have never had truly enough troops to protect the population." So sure is Keane the British are about to pull out of Basra that he has recommended to the Pentagon that the US Army deploy a brigade group to replace it in case the insurgents take advantage of any power vacuum.
Hmmm. Interesting story, perhaps with implications for Magical September. If our closest allies are pulling back despite criticism from Keane, who speaks for the WH, I wonder how that would be perceived by the American public in terms of a progress report? Does that require more troops sent south ? The Brits say no, but the US says maybe. I wonder when we'll read more about it here?
Update [2007-8-26 13:0:27]: more background from 8/19/07
Military commanders tell Brown to withdraw from Iraq without delay (h/t smintheus)