Britain to withdraw troops from Iraq
By JENNIFER QUINN
Associated Press Writer
11/27/06 "AP" -- -- Thousands of British soldiers will
leave Iraq over the next year, significantly downgrading
the country's commitment in the region, the defense
secretary said Monday. Poland and Italy also announced
the impending withdrawal of their remaining troops.
The reduction of British troops will occur as control of
two southern provinces is transferred to Iraqi forces,
although Defense Secretary Des Browne insisted that
"handover does not mean withdrawal."
"Even when all the provinces are handed over, we will
still be providing a force to mentor and back up the
Iraqi army and police, and to protect coalition supply
routes," he said. "But I can tell you that by the end of
next year I expect numbers of British forces in Iraq to
be significantly lower — by a matter of thousands."
Britain has more than 7,000 British troops in Iraq,
primarily in the south; At the height of the conflict,
there were about 46,000. Browne said the British
military presence in Iraq would be determined by
officials in London and Baghdad.
Also on Monday Polish President Lech Kaczynski said his
country, a U.S. ally in Iraq and Afghanistan, would pull
its remaining 900 soldiers out of Iraq by the end of
2007. And Italian Premier Romano Prodi said the last of
Italy's soldiers in Iraq — some 60-70 troops — will
return home this week, ending the Italian contingent's
presence in the south of the country after more than
In a speech to the Royal Institute of International
Affairs, a foreign policy think-tank, Browne also warned
Iran that it faces increasing isolation if it does not
use its influence in Iraq constructively, but he spared
Syria from similar criticism.
"Its foreign minister — the first senior-ranking Syrian
official to visit Iraq since Saddam Hussein's fall — has
re-established diplomatic ties and stated that Damascus
is ready to engage in dialogue, and work for stability
in Iraq and the region," he said. "But, as ever, we need
to see actions to match the words."
Browne, singling out Iran, said the Islamic republic's
support of insurgents is unacceptable and
"Iran must start seeing Iraq not as a tool in a wider
confrontation with the West, but as a vital interest in
its own right," Browne said. "Iran's interest is in a
stable, non-aggressive Iraq. So the message to Iran is
simple; Be a constructive partner, help yourself as well
as the wider region, or face increasing isolation."
Last week, Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett said
Britain may be able to hand over security responsibility
in the southern port city of Basra by the spring of next
year. Britain also hopes to hand security control over
to the Iraqis in the province of Maysan, on the Iranian
border, in January.
Copyright © 2006 The Associated Press.