The majority of British troops will be out of Iraq by next April with final negotiations underway for a mass withdrawal, it was claimed today.
November 7, 2008 – Speaking during a visit to Basra, Douglas Alexander, the International Development Secretary, said that a “significant draw-down” of troops was on the way.
Final negotiations are said to be underway with the Iraqi government, with Gordon Brown expected to make an announcement before Christmas.
Iraq has been pressing for the speedy withdrawal of all foreign troops, and Barack Obama, the President-Elect, is keen to pull American forces out of the country as soon as possible.
Mr Alexander said: “We’ll continue to work closely with the government of Iraq but we will see a significant drawdown of British troops as a recognition of the progress and success that’s been enjoyed here in Basra.
“We are looking ahead to the first half of 2009 but our focus on the moment is securing the possibility that I’ve seen today which is for further jobs, further investment, further prosperity.”
The process of handing over Basra airport and airspace to the Iraqis is likely to begin within weeks, with the Americans taking over camp security.
Asked about claims by Sky News that the “end game” had been reached in Iraq, the Prime Minister insisted that there had been “no fundamental change” in British strategy since his announcement in July that there would be a “fundamental change of mission” for UK forces in Basra in the first half of 2009.
He added: “I want to be absolutely clear that there is no change in our policy.
“Our policy is to continue and to finish the work we have agreed to do in Iraq: training the Iraqi troops – we are training thousands of Iraqi troops and Iraqi policemen and women; we are pursuing a strategy to give people in Basra, the area in which we are involved, a stake in the economic future of that area and we are involved in a great deal of economic development there; and we are trying to make sure that local elections take place so that local leaders are in place.
“Once we have done these things, there will be that fundamental change of mission.”
Liam Fox, the shadow defence secretary, said: “It has been clear for some time that Britain’s operational role in Iraq is coming to an end. Our forces have made an important contribution to stability in the country.”