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17 Dec, 2008 18:06

British troops to leave Iraq by end of July

Ending months of speculation, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown announced that British troops are to leave Iraq by the end of July. The PM made the statement during a surprise visit to Baghdad where he met with his Iraqi counterpart Nouri al-Maliki.

Speaking at a new conference after the talks, Brown said that the mission would be over by May 31.

“We will of course continue to work in the best possible way with Iraq in the future. We will offer work with training wherever that is necessary. But having completed the four tasks that we have set ourselves, we will end our mission on May 31, and our troops will be coming home during the next two months,” he said, adding that further details would be reported in his statement to the House of Commons on Thursday.

The pullout date follows an Iraqi government resolution calling for all non-US troops to withdraw from the country by the end of July. Britain is the second-largest contributor to the international military coalition in Iraq after the United States.

Currently there are about 4,100 British troops in Southern Iraq. Almost 200 British soldiers have been killed since the invasion five years ago.

According to RT’s military analyst Eugeny Khruschev  “the British pullout does not signify the end of the so-called ‘coalition of the unwilling’ in Iraq but is rather a reality check for the U.S.”

The long awaited news has been welcomed in the UK.

The Independent writes that British Shadow Foreign Secretary William Hague saluted the work of British forces in Iraq, pointing out they will have been there for longer than six years – a “deployment longer than the duration of the Second World War”.

“As we welcome the end of this deployment isn't it now finally time for the Government to establish what the whole nation expects to see – a full scale and independent inquiry, into the origins and conduct of the war?” he is quoted as saying.

Seumas Milne, Guardian columnist and associate editor, wrote earlier that British troop withdrawal “will signal the end of the most shameful and disastrous episode in modern British history”.

“In the case of Britain, which marched into a sovereign state at the bidding of an extreme and reckless US administration, the war has been a national disgrace which has damaged the country's international standing,” he wrote.

“Britain's armed forces will withdraw from Iraq with dishonour. Not only were they driven from Basra last summer under cover of darkness by determined resistance, just as British colonial troops were forced out of Aden 40 years ago, but also Iraq and Afghanistan, among other places, before that. They leave behind them an accumulation of evidence of prisoner beatings, torture and killings, for which only one low-ranking soldier, Corporal Payne, has so far been singled out for punishment,” Milne wrote.  

It’s thought that pulling out of Iraq would enable Britain to send more troops to Afghanistan, where security has deteriorated in the past year, as the United States has called for more allied troops. Reuters quotes Paul Smyth, a defence analyst at the Royal United Services Institute, a London-based think-tank, as saying:

“I think they will increase the number of troops in Afghanistan eventually, but it's going to take time, it's not immediate.” He emphasised that soldiers need rest and, also, time to be trained for a different mission.