Sat Jul 09 2005
BRITAIN and America are secretly preparing to withdraw most of their troops from Iraq - despite warnings of the grave consequences for the region, the SUNDAY MAIL in UK is reporting.
A secret paper written by UK Defence Secretary John Reid for Tony Blair reveals that many of the 8,500 British troops in Iraq are set to be brought home within three months, with most of the rest returning six months later.
The leaked document, marked Secret: UK Eyes Only, appears to fly in the face of Mr Blair and President Bush's pledges that Allied forces will not quit until Iraq's own forces are strong enough to take control of security.
If British troops pull out, other members of the Alliance are likely to follow. The memo says other international forces in Southern Iraq currently under British control will have to be handled carefully if Britain withdraws. It says they will not feel safe and may also leave.
Embarrassingly, the document says the Americans are split over the plan - and it suggests one of the reasons for getting British troops out is to save money. Mr Reid says cutting UK troop numbers to 3,000 by the middle of next year will save GBP 500million a year, though it will be 18 months before the cash comes through.
The document, Options For Future UK Force Posture In Iraq, is the first conclusive proof that preparations for a major withdrawal from Iraq are well advanced.
The British Government's public position is that UK troops will stay until newly trained Iraqi forces are ready to take control of security. Less than a fortnight ago, Mr Blair said it was 'vital' the US-led coalition stayed until Iraq stabilised, and Mr Bush endorsed his comments.
Mr Reid's memo, prepared for Mr Blair in the past few weeks, shows that in reality, plans to get them out - 'military drawdown,' as he puts it - are well advanced.
It says: 'We have a commitment to hand over to Iraqi control in Al Muthanna and Maysan provinces two of the four provinces under British control in Southern Iraq in October 2005 and in the other two, Dhi Qar and Basra, in April 2006.
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