The arrogant raid by British forces to free two captured soldiers seems to have marked the beginning of the end for the occupation in Basra. At home, the sight of British forces fighting their own allies has caused political support for the war, never high to begin with, to plumment even further. In Iraq, it has been a disaster. Basra's governor has withdrawn all cooperation with British troops - turning them overnight into an occupying army. And now, an Iraqi judge has issued arrest warrants for the two soldiers on charges of murder.
The British are incredulous - they have a Status Of Forces Agreement which grants British troops immunity from Iraqi law. But that agreement was extracted from the puppet government established by the Americans after the regime's fall, and so fundamentally lacks legitimacy. Iraqis simply have no reason to respect it, and the British attempting to hide behind it will just increase the anger at their actions. I don't for a moment think the soldiers will be prosecuted in an Iraqi court - the British will simply spirit them out of the country to prevent that happening - but now they are on notice. Next time their troops kill civilians, there will be another arrest warrant - and another, and another. And eventually, they'll be facing their nightmare - ten thousand Iraqis outside their base, screaming for someone to be handed over to face justice. And at that stage, they'll be faced with the stark choice of either perpetrating a massacre, or going home.
Unlike the Americans, the British have always recognised that their presence depends on local goodwill. Thanks to last weeks' actions, that goodwill is now gone - and so it is only a matter of time before the British are gone too.