British troops to withdraw gradually from Iraq: defence minister

October 22nd, 2006  
Team Infidel

Topic: British troops to withdraw gradually from Iraq: defence minister

Media: AFP
Byline: n/a
Date: 22 October 2006


LONDON, Oct 22, 2006 (AFP) - British troops pulling out of Iraq will be a
"process and not an event" and would only take place "when the job is
done", the defence secretary insisted Sunday as violence continued in the

Des Browne's comments come after junior foreign minister Kim Howells said
Iraqi soldiers and police would be ready to take over security from
coalition troops within a year.

In southern Iraq, where British troops are based, a regiment is on standby
to re-enter the city of Amara. Security control was handed over to local
forces in August but they have been severely tested by Shiite militia

Browne said the clashes proved that Iraqi forces were able to cope in areas
where coalition troops have withdrawn.

"British forces (will move) out when the job is done. This is a process and
not an event," Browne told Sky News television from Afghanistan.

"We have been in the process of moving towards transition to the Iraqi
government for some months now. We're quite far down the process of
transferring responsibility to the Iraqis."

Meanwhile William Hague, the foreign affairs spokesman for the main
opposition Conservatives -- who backed the March 2003 invasion of Iraq --
called for the government to reassess its strategy there to match a process
underway in the United States.

"We should be able to fully debate it in the House of Commons and know that
there is British influence in the decision, not just solely an American
decision," he told BBC television.

But he said few observers wanted either an immediate pull-out of British
troops or a policy of keeping them in Iraq for many more years.

Jeremy Greenstock, formerly a British ambassador to the United Nations and
a special representative in Iraq, said there would a price for switching
strategy in Iraq.

"There are only bad options for the coalition from now on," he told Sky
News television.

He said that could be talking to Iran and Syria about Iraq, putting in
extra resources or witnessing the failure of Iraqi forces as coalition
troops pull out.

Greenstock said rebuilding Iraq into a stable, secure country was "going to
take five years or more".

Howells told BBC radio late Saturday: "I would have thought that certainly
in a year or so there will be adequately trained Iraqi soldiers and
security forces -- police men and women and so on -- in order to do the
job," Howells said.

"I would be very surprised if there was not that kind of capacity taking on
a lot of the work done by the coalition forces."

Britain has around 7,000 troops stationed in southern Iraq around the
second city of Basra.

Iraqis prepared Sunday to mark a grim Eid holiday after the bloodiest
Ramadan month in more than three years forced the United States to weigh a
change in tactics.

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