1,600 UK troops to leave Iraq
The majority of UK troops are based in Basra
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Wednesday, 21, Feb 2007 07:28
Some 1,600 British troops serving in Iraq are to return home within months, the prime minister has said today.
Tony Blair announced in the Commons this afternoon that the British force in the troubled country would be reduced from 7,100 troops to "roughly 5,500 in the coming months".
He added that "over time and dependent naturally on progress" that number may drop below 5,000 but he reiterated that UK troops will remain in Iraq "as long as we are wanted and have a job to do".
Mr Blair's announcement was widely trailed in the media, but he stopped short of pledging to bring 3,000 UK troops home by Christmas, as some reports had suggested.
The move to reduce British personnel in Iraq comes as operations continue in the southern city of Basra, where the vast majority of UK troops are based and deployed in Operation Sinbad.
The success of the operation is leading the way to a handover to homegrown Iraqi forces, Mr Blair said.
"Iraqi forces now have primary security role of most parts of the city," the prime minister told MPs.
"In the coming months we will transfer more responsibility."
He went to on to say that UK forces will be tasked with training and supporting Iraqi forces, securing the Iraq-Iran border and supply routes and, "above all", responding to insurgency attacks.
The move to reduce the number of troops was welcomed by both the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, although Lib Dem leader Sir Menzies Campbell said it "doesn't alter my view on a phased withdrawal by October".
Yesterday, Australian prime minister John Howard faced criticism from the Australian public after committing another 70 Australian troops to help train Iraqi security forces in a phone call to US president George Bush.
The US is facing its own internal dilemma over a pledge by Mr Bush to increase the country's troop commitment by 21,500 troops.