LONDON - Prime Minister Tony Blair will announce on Wednesday a new timetable
for the withdrawal of British troops from Iraq, with 1,500 to return home in
several weeks, the BBC reported.
A British airman trains his machine gun out of the side door
of a Royal Air Force helicopter ferrying troops and passengers into
Baghdad, January 2007. British Prime Minister Tony Blair will announce on
Wednesday that thousands of his country's troops are to begin withdrawing
from Iraq in weeks, according to media reports confirmed by the White
Blair will also tell the House of Commons during his regular weekly
appearance before it that a total of about 3,000 British soldiers will have left
southern Iraq by the end of 2007, if the security there is sufficient, the
British Broadcasting Corp. said, quoting government officials who weren't
The BBC said Blair was not expected to say when the rest of Britain's forces
would leave Iraq. Currently, Britain has about 7,100 soldiers there.
Britain has long been the most important coalition member in Iraq after the
United States. But Blair knows the British public and politicians from his own
Labour Party want the troops out as quickly as possible, and don't want to see
Britain stick with the United States in Iraq for the long haul.
Militarily, a British withdrawal isn't likely to have much effect on the
stepped-up US operation in Baghdad or the war with the Sunnis in Anbar province
west of the Iraqi capital. However, Iraqi forces could have a tough time
maintaining security in mostly Shiite southern Iraq, including Basra city.
Blair's Downing Street office refused to comment on the BBC report, which
also said Blair would tell the Commons that if the situation worsens on the
ground on Iraq, his new game plan could change.
The announcement comes even as President Bush implements an increase of
21,000 more troops for Iraq.
Blair and Bush talked by secure video link Tuesday morning, and Bush views
Britain's troop cutbacks as "a sign of success" in Iraq, said US National
Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe.
"The president is grateful for the support of the British Forces in the past
and into the future," Johndroe said in Washington. "While the United Kingdom is
maintaining a robust force in southern Iraq, we're pleased that conditions in
Basra have improved sufficiently that they are able to transition more control
to the Iraqis.
"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,"
Johndroe said. "President Bush sees this as a sign of success and what is
possible for us once we help the Iraqis deal with the sectarian violence in
"We want to bring our troops homes as well," Johndroe said. "It's the model
we want to emulate, to turn over more responsibilities to Iraqis and bring our
troops home. That's the goal and always has been."
Blair said Sunday that Washington had not put pressure on London to maintain
its troop numbers.
As recently as late last month, Blair rejected opposition calls to withdrawal
British troops by October, calling such a plan irresponsible.
"That would send the most disastrous signal to the people that we are
fighting in Iraq. It's a policy that, whatever its superficial attractions may
be, is actually deeply irresponsible," Blair said on Jan. 24 in the Commons.
Blair, who has said he will step down as prime minister by September after a
decade in power, has seen his foreign-policy record overshadowed by his role as
Bush's leading ally in the unpopular war.
Last month, Blair said he would report to lawmakers on 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. On Sunday,
Blair told the BBC that the operation was completed.
Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett said in January that Operation Sinbad
offered the prospect of a "turning point for Iraq, hopefully in the near
Treasury chief Gordon Brown, who is likely to succeed Blair, has said he
hoped several thousand British soldiers would be withdrawn by December.