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The British newspaper The Guardian reports that Tony Blair and George Bush will shortly announce a schedule for an expedited troop withdrawal from Iraq. The coalition leaders plan to hand over entire provinces to the newly-installed Iraqi government and their security forces, perhaps in as many as 16 of the 18 provinces comprising Iraq:
George Bush and Tony Blair are to discuss in Washington this week a programme of troop withdrawals from Iraq that will be much faster and more ambitious than originally planned.
In a phased pullout in which the two countries will act in tandem, Britain is to begin with a handover to Iraqi security forces in Muthanna province in July and the Americans will follow suit in Najaf, the Shia holy city.
Other withdrawals will quickly follow over the remainder of the year. Officials in both administrations hope that Britain's 8,000 forces in Iraq can be down to 5,000 by the end of the year and that the American forces will be reduced from 133,000 to about 100,000.
Yesterday Nuri al-Maliki, the new Iraqi prime minister, told a joint press conference with Mr Blair in Baghdad that Iraqi forces could take over from the US-led coalition in 16 of the country's 18 provinces by the end of the year.
Maliki actually called for this process to begin next month, a date that got immediately adjusted to July by the British. However, the plan appears to be more solid that before, and the order of provinces due to be transitioned has already been discussed.
Two provinces that will definitely not see a transition in 2006 are Basra and Anbar. Both have continued to give the Coalition forces headaches, the former with the rise of Shi'ite militia and the latter from insurgencies, both native and foreign. If the Iraqis can handle a transition in other provinces and provide security, then the Coalition will have more ability to concentrate in Basra and Anbar to end the terrorism that has plagued both areas. Those provinces also provide strategic points from which the Americans and the British can quickly respond to support the Iraqi Army when needed.
Still, with the violence in the area, the Coalition has to take care not to leave too soon, or else we will only wind up having to return in force if the Iraqi Army does not stand up to the task. That would wind up being more costly than simply showing some patience and making sure that the time for transition has arrived.Sphere It View blog reactions
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Tracked on May 23, 2006 1:08 PM
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