The British drawdown

Posted on Wednesday 21 February 2007

Tony Blair has announced a withdrawal timeline for the 7200 British troops in southern Iraq. MSNBC reports:

LONDON – Britain will withdraw around 1,600 troops from Iraq in the “coming months,” aiming to cut its force to below 5,000 by late summer if Iraqi forces can secure the southern part of the country, Prime Minister Tony Blair said Wednesday.

British troops will stay in Iraq until at least 2008 and work to secure the Iran-Iraq border and maintain supply routes to U.S. and coalition troops in central Iraq, Blair told the House of Commons.

The south, of course, isn’t nearly as unstable as Baghdad, or points west, and as such, Blair can, in fact, make the case that the Iraqis can (or should) be able to take care of their own security there. Furthermore, the statement isn’t nearly as dramatic as reports last night suggested. In spite of pretty heavy ground-laying about the successful completion of the mission, Tony Blair has put a great deal of ambiguity into the withdrawal timeline:

Dependent on Iraqi capability Britain would draw down further, “possibly to below 5,000” once a base at Basra Palace is transferred to Iraqi control in late summer, Blair said.

“What all of this means is not that Basra is how we want it to be. But it does mean that the next chapter in Basra’s history can be written by Iraqis,” Blair said.

So… not quite as advertised.

However, it’s worth pointing out that the U.S. would be doing precisely the same thing (at least, as I understand it) if Baghdad and other areas were stabilizing — or even verging on secure. What this says, though, to (and about) the “coalition” is telling.

Separately, Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen said Denmark will withdraw its 460-member contingent from southern Iraq by August and transfer security responsibilities to Iraqi forces.

Rasmussen said the decision had been made in conjunction with the Iraqi government and Britain, under whose command the Danish forces are serving near Basra. He said Denmark would replace the troops with surveillance helicopters and civilian advisers to help the Iraqi government’s reconstruction efforts.

And a government spokeswoman in Lithuania said the Baltic nation is “seriously considering” withdrawing its 53 troops from Iraq.

Defense Ministry spokeswoman Ruta Apeitkyte told The Associated Press that the Baltic country was considering not replacing the contingent when its mission ends in August.

The 513 combined troops representing Denmark and Latvia aren’t nearly as significant numerically as they are psychologically. As more allies draw down, the United States will be seen as increasingly isolated, and rogue.

Of course, that’s pretty much how much of the world saw us going in, too.

* * * * *

Added: Cheney says this is good news:

But in an exclusive interview with ABC News, Vice President Dick Cheney said the move was actually good news and a sign of progress in Iraq.

“Well, I look at it and see it is actually an affirmation that there are parts of Iraq where things are going pretty well,” Cheney told ABC News’ Jonathan Karl.

“In fact, I talked to a friend just the other day who had driven to Baghdad down to Basra, seven hours, found the situation dramatically improved from a year or so ago, sort of validated the British view they had made progress in southern Iraq and that they can therefore reduce their force levels,” Cheney said.

He goes on with the “al Qaeda loves the Democrats” mantra…

3 Comments for 'The British drawdown'

    February 21, 2007 | 5:18 pm

    I’m excited that someone finally feels there is a part of Iraq stable enough to let it be run by their own forces. For two years now it was mentioned at the end of a year that the new year would see OUR forces begin the withdrawing process.

    It bothers me some that while these other countries feel the job is done in some areas and they can reduce troop levels, they are not moving those forces to areas that still need help. Perhaps we turned them down and having more chiefs in these areas would just cancel out the benefits, but it looks like there is some area there that could still use their help.

    February 23, 2007 | 2:54 am

    Are you falling for known liars saying they are leaving because Basra is going well?

    February 23, 2007 | 11:39 am

    Actually, I’m more inclined to think that the coming push in Afghanistan is going to require far more active involvement than has thus been committed. The Taliban is not gearing up for a game of footsie this time around, and the British are over-extended (mostly, via budget).

    Yes, of course it’s being spun. OTOH, Basra ain’t Baghdad.

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