Wednesday, February 21, 2007

UK govt announces troop 'withdrawal'

British withdrawal comes as a report shows terror attacks are rising

The UK is to scale down the number of British troops in Iraq [BBC]. The numbers which currently stand at 7,100 are to be reduced by 1,600 over the coming months. As the news leaked out many media organisations called it a withdrawal. But government officials preferred to refer to the reduction in more measured terms. When Tony Blair finally made his statement during the weekly Prime Minister’s question time he said the reduced force would be redeployed to Basra’s airport where they would remain to provide a supporting role to Iraqi troops.

During the address to a packed parliamentary session, Tony Blair acknowledged the increased violence in the country and blamed much of it on al-Qaeda. He also said Shi’ite militant groups were also responsible for some of the violence but that the British role in Basra was ‘complete’. However there were still dangers and attacks on troops. “The problems remain formidable,” he said, but “the next chapter will be written by the Iraqis”. He praised the support of other coalition countries including Denmark. But as he spoke, the Danish Prime Minister announced he would withdraw his country’s 460 troops by August 2007 [BBC]. Besides the changes of commitment by coalition countries, Condoleezza Rice insisted “the coalition remains intact”. But the danger for the US who have made little response to the UK decision is the increased role they may have to play in the south, as well as the north, of the country. Sky’s Keith Graves pointed to the risk that US troops may be “sucked into the area to protect the only sea port at Um Qasr” as well defending the nearby border against any Iranian breaches. CNN’s Robin Oakley in his report said, “Tony Blair has been dogged by his case for war in Iraq” and suggested that the pressure on his leadership was forcing these decisions. Blair has continually echoed the statements of his ally George W Bush, saying there was “no suggestion of getting out before the job is done”. But with the rise in casualties, 29 last year alone, was forcing his hand. The decision and setting out a plan for withdrawal also contrasts with the US president’s stand. Bush has constantly stated that “it would be a mistake to set a time table” and in a CNN report it was suggested that today’s news Bush on the spot as his key ally sets out an agenda for withdrawal. The coalition has weakened considerably over the last 4 years with several countries having removed their troops. Amongst those that remain there exists much political pressure. One case in point is John Howard’s administration in Australia, which are preparing to fight an election against a backdrop of strong public opposition. The UK decision to scale down the troop numbers was broadly welcomed by politicians on all sides. But there were still questions to be answered. David Cameron the opposition leader said there were issues over the continuing security situation and especially for any remaining British troops. Menzies Campbell, the Liberal Democrat leader, also welcomed the ‘withdrawal’ but suggested the decision to invade Iraq was a failure and will be seen as one of the worst foreign policy decisions in many years. Criticism came too from one CNN report which said that far from denying terrorists a ‘safe haven’, the war was creating new terrorists and providing a training camp. New figures emerging from one study group does give some credence to this view. Before 9/11, the report says that there were around 30 terrorist attacks per year, worldwide leaving an average of 500 dead. Since 9/11 attacks had risen to more than 200 per year leaving 1,700 dead. In 2005 terrorist incidents tripled [Washington Post]. A more recent report painted an even grimmer picture [report]. According to the report ‘fatal jihadist attacks’ have increased seven fold since the Iraqi invasion []

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