Global Policy Forum

Blair Announces Iraq Troops Cut

February 21, 2007

Prime Minister Tony Blair has told MPs that 1,600 British troops will return from Iraq within the next few months.

He said the 7,100 serving troops would be cut to 5,500 soon, with hopes that 500 more will leave by late summer. Mr Blair said some soldiers, stationed at Basra air base, would remain into 2008 to help secure supply routes, the Iran border and to support Iraqis. Basra remained a "dangerous" place but he said that Iraqis would "write the next chapter" in its history. Mr Blair said the troops reduction followed the success of Operation Sinbad to allow Iraqis to take the lead in frontline security in Basra.

Mr Blair said Basra was still "difficult and sometimes dangerous", but he said levels of murder and kidnappings had dropped and reconstruction was under way. "The problems remain formidable," he said. "What all of this means is not that Basra is how we want it to be but the next chapter in Basra's history can be written by the Iraqis."

He said that it was important to show the Iraqis that Britain - and the other multinational force members - did not intend their forces to stay longer than necessary. But he added: "The speed at which this happens depends, of course, in part on what we do, what the Iraqi authorities themselves do, but also on the attitude of those we are together fighting. Their claim to be fighting for the liberation of their country is a palpable lie. "

British forces will hand over all bases to local authorities, except for Basra air base and Basra Palace, and most will withdraw to the air base shortly. Iraq's national security adviser, Mowaffak al-Rubaie told BBC Radio 4's World at One programme: "It's very good news and the British Army will be thanked and we are grateful for everything they have done in the southern part of Iraq, they've done a brilliant job. But he added: "We would have hoped that the process would've been accelerated further and speeded up rather than be spaced out."

Conservative leader David Cameron said the announcement would be "welcomed in this House, in the country and especially to the families of those serving in Iraq over the coming months. We owe a huge debt to the professionalism, the courage and dedication shown by our armed forces serving in Iraq as elsewhere."

'Huge debt'

But Liberal Democrat leader Sir Menzies Campbell, whose party opposed the war in Iraq, said the "unpalatable truth" was that Britain was leaving behind a country on the brink on civil war. "This is a long way short of the beacon of democracy for the Middle East which was promised some four years ago," he said.

A total of 132 British Armed Forces personnel have died serving in Iraq since March 2003. The funeral of the latest - that of Private Luke Simpson, of the 1st Battalion, the Yorkshire Regiment - is due to take place on Wednesday.

The proposed cut in numbers of British troops comes at the same time as 21,500 more US troops are being sent to Iraq. The White House has confirmed that President Bush and Mr Blair had discussed the plans on Tuesday. A spokesman said: "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." However, opponents of Mr Bush's strategy have seized on Britain's move and are using it to attack the president.

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