Hello, gentle blog reader,
The British press reports that Gordon Brown will announce Britain’s withdrawal from Iraq by May of 2009.
Given Britain is our #1 ally in the “fight against terrorism,” I can’t help but suspect the US will pull out troops by May of next year too rather than go it alone in the land of our enemies.
How about you–what do you think?
Here’s the story:
The Prime Minister, who visited Iraq yesterday, has announced that Britain’s 4,100 remaining troops will withdraw by next summer.
The exact timetable for the withdrawal will be set out to MPs in a House of Commons statement today.
Troops are expected to begin leaving the British base in Basra in March. The majority of troops will leave in May with a complete withdrawal by the end of July.
The operation will have formally ended by May 31 2009 – just over six years after it first began.
A memorial to deceased British troops built in Basra is expected to be carefully dismantled and rebuilt in the UK. The British headquarters in the Iraqi city are eventually planned to be converted to a hotel.
The announcement will end one of the most controversial chapters in recent military history. More than 40,000 British troops were involved in the initial invasion and about 100,000 members of the armed forces have served in Iraq.
178 Britons have lost their lives during the conflict. Although Mr Brown sparked controversy yesterday after wrongly stating that only 176 troops had died when paying tribute to the work of the armed forces.
Mr Brown welcomed the planned troop pull-out saying that Britain had achieved what it had set out to.
“It is important to remember we have been engaged in the most difficult and challenging of work,” he said.
“The tasks of overthrowing a dictatorship, the task of building a democracy for the future and defending it against terrorism.”
“We have made a huge contribution and of course given people an economic stake in the future of Iraq. We leave Iraq a better place.”
He added: “I am proud of the contribution British forces have made. They are the pride of Britain and the best in the world.”
About 4,000 Americans will be deployed in Basra after the British withdrawal sparking allegations that we are leaving the country prematurely.
Britain is also expected to come under pressure to redeploy many of the troops to Afghanistan although military chiefs have warned this may not be sustainable in the long term.
The Prime Minister travelled to Baghdad yesterday to discuss the pull-out with Nouri al-Malaki, the Iraqi Prime Minister. He later travelled to visit British troops in Basra and made a rare visit to the port of Umm Qasr.
The negotiations were overshadowed by twin bomb blasts in the Iraqi capital which killed 18 people and wounded 53.
The car bomb and a second explosion killed police and civilians in the Nahdha neighbourhood of central Baghdad, near a traffic police station and a hospital.
During yesterday’s visit, Mr Brown travelled outside of the heavily-secured green zone in central Baghdad for the first time. He also toured the port of Umm Qasr with the Iraqi navy in the south of the country.
The Prime Minister believes this demonstrates the major developments that have been made in improving security in Iraq in recent months.
Mr Brown laid a reef at the memorial to British troops who have died in the conflict. He also spoke to the remaining troops and said that there “courage is legendary”.
The current UN resolution which gives British troops the legal right to be in Iraq expires at the end of the month. The British and Iraqi Governments are close to agreeing a new “status of forces” agreement which will allow UK troops to remain in Iraq after the end of the year.
The deal, which has been negotiated by Simon MacDonald, Mr Brown’s chief foreign policy adviser, will allow British troops to continue using force during their operations.
The Prime Minister also used the visit to raise the plight of five Britons who are still being held hostage in Iraq.
Mr Brown was photographed wearing protective glasses as he left a helicopter in Baghdad.
A few hundred troops are likely to be posted in Iraq after the withdrawal to help with training and other specialist tasks.