White House Spins UK Pullout As Sign Of "Success" And "Stability"
All British Troops Out Of Iraq By End Of 2008
On Tuesday, UK prime minister Tony Blair talked to US President George W. Bush by phone and told him he was planning to announce the withdrawal of UK troops from Iraq.
Blair is set to announce today a withdrawal timetable that is expected to see some 1500 UK troops return home within weeks, and at least half of all 7000 deployed troops to be out of Iraq by Christmas.
The UK Guardian claims all British troops will be out of Iraq by the end of 2008.
In January, Blair reacted to calls from Liberal Democrats to set a timetable for withdrawal with the following words :
"to set an arbitrary timetable... that we will pull British troops out in October, come what may... would send the most disastrous signal to the people we are fighting inBlair is believed to have changed his mind for a variety of reasons, including intelligence reports that the UK presence is inflaming sectarian fighting, instead of quelling it, and the likelihood that Blair is to soon hand over the prime ministership to successor Gordon Brown, who hasn't a chance of winning the next UK election with the Iraq War hanging over his head.
A White House spokesman said the US viewed the British withdrawal as "a success" and a sign of increasing stability inside Iraq.
From abc.net.au :
"The President is grateful for the support of the British forces in the past and into the future," (the White House spokesman said).
"While the United Kingdom is maintaining a robust force in southern Iraq, we're pleased that conditions in Basra have improved sufficiently that they are able to transition more control to the Iraqis.
"The United States shares the same goal of turning responsibility over to the Iraqi Security Forces and reducing the number of American troops in Iraq."
From the BBC :
BBC political correspondent James Landale said: "We have been expecting an announcement for some time on this."
However, he said reports that all troops will have returned home by the end of 2008 was "not a fair representation of what is true at the moment".
Our correspondent said senior Whitehall sources had told him that the pullout was "slightly slower" than they had expected and "if conditions worsen this process could still slow up".
From the UK Guardian :
The prime minister is expected to say that Britain intends to gradually reduce the number of troops in southern Iraq over the next 22 months as Iraqi forces take on more responsibility for the security of Basra and the surrounding areas.
Ministers have taken on board the message coming from military chiefs over many months - namely that the presence of British troops on the streets of Basra is increasingly unnecessary, even provocative.
The reduction of just 1,000 by early summer cited by officials yesterday is significantly less than anticipated in reports that British troops in southern Iraq, presently totalling 7,200, would be cut by half by May.
A more cautious reduction may reflect concern expressed by the Iraqi and US governments about British intentions.
The US has privately admonished Britain claiming it is interested only in Basra. British ministers and officials say the situation in the Shia-dominated south cannot be compared to Baghdad, which is plagued by Sunni-Shia sectarian violence.
Under the plan due to be outlined by Mr Blair, British troops will gradually move into a single base on the outskirts of Basra. They will continue to take part in operations but in a role supporting Iraqi security forces rather than leading them, according to defence officials.
They will also continue operating long range desert patrols in Maysan province, north of Basra, along the border with Iran - a mission pressed on Britain by the US which says it is concerned about the smuggling of weapons from Iran. By the end of next year, all but a few army instructors will have left the country.
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