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LONDON - Prime Minister Tony Blair said Tuesday that "significant numbers" of British troops could be withdrawn from Iraq within 18 months.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

 

Iraq investigates Mosul civilian deaths

Iran to symbolically sanction 15 US companies

US-backed fighters battle IS near north Syria town

Yemeni rebel supporters flood streets on conflict’s anniversary

Egypt’s dwindling Jews struggle to maintain heritage

Israel arrests 22 ultra-Orthodox sex offenders

Syrian forces pause offensive on IS-held dam for repairs

Dubai's Emaar Malls offers $800m to buy Souq.com

Iraq launches fresh Mosul Old City advance

Serious challenges for Arab leaders in Amman

Hamas partially reopens Beit Hanoun crossing

In Algeria, everyone wants to be MP, few likely to vote

Syria fighting damages IS-held dam posing rising water risk

Iran to appeal seizure of 9/11 compensation money

Hamas shuts Gaza crossing after assassination of official

Deep concern as Israeli laws entrench the occupation

Turkey’s Kurds could sway tight referendum vote

Al-Qaeda, on the rise again, hits Assad where it hurts

US and allies talk of post-ISIS future, but have no plan

Israel’s air strike on Syria spooks Middle East

Gunmen kill Hamas official in Gaza

Separate Syria air strikes kill at least 32

UN says Israel has ignored resolution on illegal settlements

Veteran politician says Turkey referendum a 'test' for Kurds

More Algerian women in work, but husbands control wages

Beirut university settles US lawsuit over Hezbollah

1.1 million weekend travellers from Dubai hit by laptop ban

Shiite Lebanese women endure painful custody battles

Russia, China seek Iraq chemical weapons probe

Besieged Syrians struggle with dwindling dialysis supplies

Syria army retakes Damascus areas from rebels

Syria says peace talks must first focus on 'terrorism'

12 Syrian refugees dead after boat sinks off Turkey coast

Mosul displaced head into unknown

As war keeps them away, Yemen children dream of school

Ousted Egyptian president Mubarak freed from detention

Iraq's Sadr threatens boycott if election law unchanged

Israel, US fail to reach settlement agreement

Yemen rebel missile kills Saudi soldier

Turkish FM in Switzerland amid rising tensions with Europe

Two more 'significant arrests' over London attack

Britain arrests eight as IS claims Westminster attack

Man attempts to drive into crowd of shoppers in Belgium’s Antwerp

Palestinian FA chief says ball in Israel's court

Israel arrests Jewish teen over anti-Semitic terror threats