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LONDON - Prime Minister Tony Blair said Tuesday that "significant numbers" of British troops could be withdrawn from Iraq within 18 months.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

 

French Foreign Minister steps down with criticism of US role in Syria

UAE names women state ministers in major government shake-up

Turkey, US split deepens over support for Syria Kurds

Unstable dam affecting Mosul recapture

Abu Dhabi Crown Prince in India: String of trade, security deals expected

Egypt hires UK firm to review Sharm security

Tunisia makes $500 million from assets of ousted president

Turkey dismisses pressure to open borders as 'hypocritical'

Efforts to form Libya unity government stumble over defence portfolio

Iran blames failure of Syria peace talks on participation of ‘terrorists’

Syria opposition hopes for end of sieges

Germany hopes Syria talks in Munich will agree to provide aid

Syrian Kurdish separatists open Moscow representation

Jordan rejects France extradition request for 1982 terror attack suspects

Libya parliament extends deadline for formation of new unity government

Herzog wants Israel to begin separation from Palestinian areas

Khomeini grandson loses appeal against exclusion from Iran elections

EU tells members to accelerate refugee relocation

Syria regime's Aleppo offensive kills more than 500

Ex-Israeli PM’s prison sentence extended

Turkey summons US envoy over Syria Kurds row

Jihadist attacks bring Egypt's tourist industry to its knees

‘Hell’ falling on Aleppo

Enormous challenges emerge after full liberation of Ramadi

Hamas fighter dies in latest tunnel collapse

Aleppo siege spells trouble for the West

Egypt policeman jailed for beating vet to death

How many civilians are living under 'surrender or starve' sieges in Syria?

NATO to consider policing refugee crisis

Iran deal will delay bomb up to 15 years

Top spy warns homegrown extremists pose biggest danger to US

UN to Turkey: Open borders to stranded Syria refugees

From Muslim Chechnya to ISIS: Spies collect intelligence to help Russia

Kurdish leader accuses Ankara of 'massacre' over Cizre operation

Kremlin rebukes Merkel over criticism of Russia air strikes in Syria

Nine killed in Damascus car bomb attack

Approval of reformists raises potential for change in Iran

Saudi Patriot missile shoots down Scud fired from Yemen

Syria artists find inspiration in haunting ruins of Homs

Pentagon chief seeks anti-IS support in Europe

Border camps full as Syria families escape regime offensive

Iraq military advance reopens Ramadi-Baghdad road

IEA holds OPEC responsible for oil supply glut

Iraqi woman charged over US hostage death

Mubarak era ‘reappears’ five years after his ouster