Britain expects troops out of Iraq within next 4 years

Monday, May 22, 2006

Iraq coat of arms

Britain says it expects all foreign combat troops to withdraw from Iraq by 2010. It is the first solid statement from Britain on a firm date for troop withdrawal. Prime Minister Tony Blair says the new Iraqi national unity government offers "new hopes for the country."

He was speaking at a news conference with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, whose new government was sworn in on Saturday. A senior British official travelling with the prime minister, said the withdrawal of the present multinational force should be accomplished within four years.

He told reporters that London hoped all but some non-combatant foreign soldiers could be withdrawn by the time of the next Iraqi election in late 2009 - provided the country moved in the right direction. "The aim is to take Iraq to a position where the multinational force is able to withdraw during its period in office," the official said. According to Reuters, the statement is perhaps the firmest call yet from one of the two main allies in the United States-led invasion of Iraq on a date for pulling out troops.

He said the unity government will hasten the handover of control from coalition forces back to Iraqis, allowing Britain bring some troops home by mid-year. Britain has around 7,000 troops in Iraq. Prime Minister Maliki said overall control of security in most of Iraq's 18 provinces could gradually pass into Iraqi hands by end-2006.

As violence continues across Iraq with at least 11 people killed in shootings and bomb attacks, Mr Blair said it had taken "three years of struggle" to reach the formation of a government. "It's been longer and harder than any of us would have wanted it to be but this is a new beginning," he said from Baghdad.

The installation of Iraq's first full-term government since 2003 has forced discussion on withdrawal plans for approximately 150,000 foreign soldiers stationed there. The United States says it is too early to discuss a timetable for pulling out its 133,000 troops.

108 British military personnel have been killed in Iraq since it joined coalition in 2003. Mr Blair is expected to visit Washington this week to meet with President George W. Bush.