UK Defence Minister alludes to possible Iraq troop reduction

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

RAF Regiment gunners setting up a temporary vehicle check point.

The UK Secretary of State for Defence John Reid has admitted the withdrawal of 5,500 of the 8,500 British troops in Iraq by spring 2006 is a possibility. It comes after a report was leaked to the Mail on Sunday in the aftermath of the 7 July London bombings.

The document (Options for Future UK Force Posture in Iraq) was marked "Secret - UK eyes only" and also contained information on possible U.S. troop reductions, bringing the number of Coalition forces in Iraq down to 66,000. About 176,000 Coalition troops are presently in Iraq, 130,000 of which are from the United States Armed Forces. However, the document also reveals there is division between the Pentagon, which apparently favours a "relatively bold reduction", and U.S. commanders in Iraq who are more cautious.

The British Army is the lead component of the Multi-National Division (South-East). It has maintained forces in the 8,000+ region since the end of the 2003 Iraq War. In the document, Mr Reid admitted that a large reduction of British and U.S. forces would make it difficult for other countries to keep their force in Iraq.

Mr Reid, who took up the position of Secretary of State for Defence on 6 May 2005, admitted that the document was made by him for Prime Minister Tony Blair. In the document, Mr Reid stated that a decision would need to be made later this year on British forces levels in Iraq. The possible transfer of control of Al Muthanna and Maysan provinces, followed by Al Basrah and Dhi Qar provinces in 2006, were also included in the document. It estimated the reduction of British forces could save about £1 billion pounds (about $1.7 billion U.S. dollars).

In a statement on 10 July made in response to the leaking of the document, Mr Reid denied that the document signalled any change in policy, stating that, "No decisions on the future force posture of UK forces have been taken. But we have always said that it is our intention to hand over the lead in fighting terrorists to Iraqi security forces as their capability increases. We therefore continually produce papers outlining possible options and contingencies."

On 4 July, during a debate in the House of Commons, Mr Reid had hinted at possible reductions in forces, saying that, "By and large, about 12 [of 18] of the provinces are relatively free of terrorist attacks. As the Iraqi forces become trained to take the lead, it is possible, over a period of time, to hand the lead role to Iraqi forces in certain areas of the country and gradually, we hope, over the whole country."

A spokesperson of the MND (SE) was questioned by a Wikireporter. When asked whether speculation of reductions would affect British forces morale in Iraq, it was insisted that, "The British forces will continue to operate in the professional manner to which they always have done."

The spokesperson added, "No decision on the future posture of UK forces in Iraq has been taken. There has been no change in policy. Assisting the Iraqis to improve the security environment remains our top priority."

Speaking of the response by Iraqis to the London bombings, the spokesperson said, "Most of the feed back from Friday pray[ers] in the British Area of Operation were against the attacks on London."


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This article features first-hand journalism by Wikinews members. See the collaboration page for more details.