February 20, 2007

British Troops To Leave Iraq

Tony Blair will announce the start of force reductions in the southern, Shi'ite regions of Iraq. Blair will tell the UK that their mission to train the native Iraqi security forces and transfer responsibility to them had succeeded, and that their presence is no longer required:

Tony Blair is preparing to announce a major reduction in British troops in Iraq as a result of a successful operation to improve security in the southern city of Basra.

Downing Street indicated tonight that Mr Blair could make his promised statement this week on Britain's future strategy in Iraq, He will be in the Commons tomorrow for his weekly Prime Minister's questions session

Reports circulating in Whitehall tonight suggested that Britain's 7,000 contingent in Iraq could be cut to around 4,000 by the early summer. ...

Mr Blair said on Sunday that Iraq's own armed forces and police were now in the main frontline control of security in Basra. Operation Sinbad - to transfer the lead role to homegrown forces - was complete and had been successful.

Thousands of British troops have been involved in operations with the Iraqi army against rogue police units, local militias and al-Qaeda groups. But once that is is finished large scale military patrols will end.

This makes some sense, in that the southern provinces have always presented less trouble than the Sunni areas in the center and west of Iraq. The population is much more homogenously Shi'ite, and the new Iraqi Army fits better there than in Baghdad, Diyala, and Anbar. Other provinces in the south have already transferred to Iraqi control, and Basra follows, as it should.

However, there is no doubt that the transition comes at a difficult time for George Bush and the US. While Blair will allow the British forces to reduce through the end of fresh rotations into Basra, the US has started to send three times as many troops into Baghdad than what the Brits have in the entire country now. The progress in Basra will get overshadowed by the surge and the battle where the sectarian insurgencies meet in the Iraqi capital.

This is the natural denouement of the Iraqi campaign, however. As the Iraqis can take over security responsibilities for their provinces, the Western powers will pull back and pull out, although the British forces will remain in smaller numbers to provide assistance to the Iraqis. The US will do the same when Baghdad and Anbar come under better control. The Brits have succeed in their mission, and they now can shift their forces accordingly.

UPDATE: The Guardian reports that the British reductions will only amount to 1,000 this year. They will pull back to their main Basra base, instead of leaving altogether. (via Hot Air)


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