First Published: 2006-07-04

 
Blair: Significant troop numbers home from Iraq within 18 months
 

British PM says his forces will remain in Iraq for as long as Iraqi government wishes them to.

 

Middle East Online

Exit strategy unveiled

LONDON - Prime Minister Tony Blair said Tuesday that "significant numbers" of British troops could be withdrawn from Iraq within 18 months.

British forces would remain in the war-shattered country for as long as the Iraqi government wished them to, Blair reiterated before the senior members of Parliament who make up the Commons Liaison Committee.

"I suspect over the next 18 months there will obviously be opportunities to draw down significant numbers of British troops because the capacity of the Iraqi troops will build up," he added.

British and Australian troops in southern Iraq are preparing to leave Muthanna province next month in the first such handover to Iraqi forces.

"What we have discussed in government is how, as progressively the Iraqi forces are more capable of taking over individual provinces, we will withdraw," Blair said.

"If one's talking about substantial troop reductions, I think the Iraqi government are keen to get control of their own security situation."

Britain was the major coalition partner in the US-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003 and has 7,200 troops stationed in the south of the country around the second city of Basra.

Challenged on whether the mere presence of British troops in southern Iraq was aggravating the security problems there, Blair agreed that their presence was "used by certain of the groups".

Iraqi troops were deployed in greater numbers on Basra's streets last month amid fears that the city was descending into factional violence.

Asked if British forces needed to reassess their approach in Basra, Blair said: "What you have got is you have got the extremists on both sides. Both of them have got the same aim, to prevent the democratic government having its writ run.

"They may use in Basra the presence of British forces as an excuse but that's not really their aim. Their aim is to get political and security control of Basra so they can run it rather than have the democratic government run it.

"It's a very tough situation there but the important thing is always to say to our own people 'Who are the authentic voice of the Iraqis?' The people they elected will give you the best opinion as to what Iraqis really want."

He added: "What the Iraqis say is yes, we want you to leave as soon as possible, but that possibility is not now."

Blair was speaking during a twice-yearly grilling by the committee on a range of government policy issues.

 

Arab coalition adopts two-pronged strategy to resolve Yemen conflict

Sudan president reelected with more than 94% of vote

Sudan accuses UNAMID of killing civilians in Darfur

Israel invites tenders for 77 East Jerusalem settler homes

Syrian rock bands finding safety in Lebanon

Gulf foreign ministers set to meet with focus on Yemen war

Iran leads NAM calls for Israel to give up nuclear weapons

UN: Israeli actions killed 44 Palestinians at UN shelters

Journalists face ‘deadliest period’ in recent history

Leading member of Syria ‘tolerated’ opposition escapes to Spain

‘Islamic State’ stones two men to death in Iraq

Coalition strikes continue as bread, medicine run short in Yemen

Guantanamo ex-inmates demand compensation from US

Novelists withdraw from NY gala in Charlie Hebdo protest

Islamist rebels overrun army base in Syria Idlib province

Iraq forces suffer heavy losses in battle of Ramadi

In new provocation, Iran Guards chief likens Saudi Arabia to Israel

Israel charges soldiers for theft in Gaza war

First Saudi National Guards deployed on Yemen border zone

Sudan to unveil election results

Turkey rounds up 350 migrants en route to Europe

Iraq army announces ‘progress’ in Anbar province

Will Somalia Shebab choose Qaeda or Islamic State?

Abbas condemns Israel killing of two young Palestinians in separate incidents

Civilian massacre in Syria northwestern town of Jisr al-Shughur

New UN envoy looks to revive talks as battles intensify across Yemen

‘Islamic State’ suicide bombers target Iraq-Jordan crossing

Four Egypt Islamists killed while preparing bombs

Extremist groups capture last major regime holdout in northwest Syria

‘Islamic State’ kills Iraq senior officers in Anbar province

Deadly fighting rages in Yemen southern towns

Entrepreneurs encourage people to ‘buy Syrian’

Over 100 children killed in Yemen since March 26

Libya militia alliance 'carries out air raids' against IS

UN 'confident' rebels will sign Mali peace deal

Petraeus gets two years probation for info leak

Iranian ships turn back from Yemen

Palestinians mourn as Jews celebrate

UN chief set to appoint Mauritanian diplomat as Yemen envoy

Obama takes 'full responsibility' for deaths of Qaeda hostages in US operation

Turkey warns Austria over decision to condemn ‘Armenian genocide’

Yemen conflict poses dangers across Gulf of Aden

Hopes for final deal on second day of Iran nuclear talks in Vienna

Security tightened at Saudi shopping malls

US returns stolen Egypt artifacts