Partial Iraq Withdrawal UK and Denmark Sending Troops Home

While the United States is ramping up its military presence in Iraq, the UK and Denmark feel its time to start sending the troops home. British Prime Minister Tony Blair has announced that there will be less than 5,000 British troops in southern Iraq by the summer and Denmark plans to withdraw its entire contingency.


Some British soldiers in Iraq are eying a return home.
AFP

Some British soldiers in Iraq are eying a return home.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair has announced that the UK will withdraw about 1,600 soldiers from Iraq in the "coming months" and aims to have troop levels below 5,00 by late summer –- that is if the local forces can secure the southern part of the country currently under British control.

Appearing for his weekly Prime Minister's Question Time in the House of Commons on Wednesday, Blair said: "The actual reduction in forces will be from the present 7,100 –- itself down from over 9,000 two years ago and 40,000 at the time of the invasion –- to roughly 5,500."

British troops will remain in Iraq until at least 2008 and work to secure the Iran-Iraq border and to maintain supply routes to US and coalition troops in central Iraq, Blair told parliament. He said the Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki had agreed to the plan.

"What all of this means is not that Basra is how we want it to be. But it means that the next chapter in Basra's history can be written by Iraqis," he said.

The proposed cut in the numbers of British troops is in marked contrast to the current United States policy, which is to send in more troops. President George W. Bush's new Iraq Strategy involves sending 21,500 extra soldiers to Iraq in an attempt to quell the continuing insurgency there.

The allies have had very different Iraq Wars since the invasion and overthrow of Saddam Hussein in 2003. While the British control the Shiite-dominated southern part of the country, which has been relatively calm, the United States has become bogged down in Sunni-dominated central Iraq, and in the capital Baghdad -- home to both Sunnis and Shiites. Blair acknowledged this difference during his speech, saying "the situation in Basra is very different from Baghdad –- there is no Sunni insurgency, no al-Qaida base, little Sunni on Shia violence," adding that it was nothing like the "challenge of Baghdad."

The White House confirmed that Bush and Blair had discussed the plans to withdraw troops on Tuesday. "While the United Kingdom is maintaining a robust force in southern Iraq," spokesman Gordon Johndroe said "we're pleased that conditions in Basra have improved sufficiently that they are able to transition more control to the Iraqis," he added. "The United States shares the same goal of turning responsibility over to the Iraqi Security Forces and reducing the number of American troops in Iraq."

In October, the head of the British Army, Sir Richard Dannat had warned that the presence of UK troops in the south was if anything making things worse by exacerbating security problems and some opposition politicians have pressuring Blair to bring British troops home.

Last month Blair, who has said he will step down by September of this year at the latest, told parliament that he would outline his future strategy in Iraq following the completion of Operation Sinbad, a joint British and Iraqi mission targeting police corruption and militia influence in Basra. At the time British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett said that Operation Sinbad offered the prospect of a "turning point for Iraq." On Sunday, in an interview with the BBC, Blair had said that the operation was now complete and "successful."

Another key ally in the Iraq War, Denmark, has also announced troop withdrawals. On Wednesday Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen announced that the 460 Danish troops in the south of the country will have left by August. He added: "We expect that the Iraqis during 2007 will take over security in southern Iraq."

smd/reuters/ap

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