If you want to go into "victory or defeat" territory, it may come down to which newspaper you read. The Scum's account of the handing over of Basra palace to the Iraqis could have been written by a faceless MoD spin doctor, a report so at odds with reality that Mike Power rightly suggests it could have come from a parallel universe. In this bizarro world Basra, select soldiers are quoted as having achieved so much, and the Mahdi army halted their attacks because:
It is thought months of fighting tenacious British troops showed the rebels they would never win military victory.
Nothing to do then with the release of around 30 Iraqi prisoners, or indeed al-Sadr's call to his supporters/fighters for a six-month ceasefire.
Then again, if you read the Daily Mail, it seems this was a humiliating disaster, with the Iraqis overjoyed at the departure of the hated occupier. The Mail's stance on the Iraq war has always been confusing: supporting it only to quickly change tact once it became something to beat Blair with, in the best traditions of the newspaper's opportunistic and sniping nature.
Back here in the real world, the retreat, for it almost certainly is one, is not just militarily and politically logical, but also the only realistic option. The soldiers on the ground not given a sheen of Sun gloss have long known that Basra was a lost cause, where they were in fact only making the security situation worse, putting the population of the city under threat for no good reason, which was more than half the reason why the initial relaxed attitude towards the British forces quickly dissipated. Regardless of what some of us think about the continuing war in Afghanistan, the army itself still believes that is achieving something there, rather than just hanging around for the purpose of giving support to a failed American foreign policy.
It would be wrong to pretend though that our motives or our actions in Basra have been always been either altruistic or above reproach. It's easy to forget that we should have never been there in the first place, and while we have a number for the amount of servicemen who have died, we have no way of knowing how many Iraqis have died as a direct result of British army action. Abu Ghraib may not have happened in the south, but the death of Baha Mousa, which has never been acceptably resolved, along with the abuse of other prisoners were a serious of shaming incidents brushed as much under the carpet as possible.
Much of the debate will be based around whether this could have occurred under Blair, and whether this is the start to a quicker, faster than expected withdrawal, and the answers to that appear to be no and yes, or at least with the latter you would hope so. While you sympathise with the idea that the training of the Iraqi forces should continue, the remaining reasons for staying more than another day are less than convincing. We'll never know how many lives on both sides have been lost for little to no fathomable reason, but the one thing we should all agree on now is that not a single drop more should be spilled, and that means taking those Iraqis employed by the army in any capacity, potentially the target of insurgents, back with us.