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Britain’s Iraq war bombshell

Posted by Dresonic on February 22, 2007

tb_2202.jpgA MOVE by Britain to begin pulling troops out of Iraq has increased the heat on the Bush Administration and the Howard Government as they grapple with pressures at home to find ways out of the Iraq war.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Washington’s most important ally in Iraq, late last night announced a decision to bring home 1600 of his country’s troops within months, and to further reduce its presence later in the year.

In an address to the House of Commons, Mr Blair also appeared to leave open the possibility of a full withdrawal of British forces from Iraq next year, saying its presence would continue into 2008 only “for as long as we are wanted and have a job to do”.

Denmark also announced last night that it would withdraw all of its 460 troops from southern Iraq in August, bringing to at least 18 the number of “coalition of the willing” nations that have reduced or abandoned their Iraq commitment.

Mr Blair emphasised that reduction in British troop levels — initially from 7100 to 5500 — would not mean a “diminution of our combat capability”.

But he said that after a key site was handed over to Iraqi forces later this year, “we will be able to draw down further, possibly to below 5000”.

The Blair decision, while not as drastic as initial predictions yesterday, comes at a difficult time for US President George Bush, who faces heavy opposition at home to his decision to send in 21,000 more troops in a bid to stabilise the violence-racked north of country.

And it caused embarrassment yesterday for Prime Minister John Howard, who has been publicly lashing out at Labor in Australia, and Democrat presidential hopeful Barack Obama in the US, over their proposals for troop withdrawals from Iraq.

Last week, amid the uproar over his criticism of Senator Obama, Mr Howard said: “If governments start nominating dates by which forces are going to be withdrawn, what they are doing is … inviting the terrorists in Iraq to persist with the destabilisation and the mayhem and the bloodshed.”

Yesterday, after news of the British decision, Mr Howard suggested it could be justified by the improved security situation in the southern Iraq city of Basra — where British forces have been stationed — which opened the way for handing over responsibility to local Iraqi forces.

“A reduction has been in the wind and the reason I understand Mr Blair will give is that conditions have stabilised in Basra, so that there can be this decision taken,” Mr Howard said.

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