/ 16 December 2008

Iraq wants all non-US foreign troops out by July

All foreign troops except for American forces will be out of Iraq by the end of July, the head of the Iraqi Parliament’s foreign affairs committee said on Tuesday.

“The Cabinet has approved draft legislation on the withdrawal of non-US forces in the coalition. It sets a timetable for a withdrawal of between five and seven months from January 1,” Hummam Hammudi told reporters.

The Bill, which still has to be passed by Parliament, will mainly affect the roughly 4 100 British troops deployed at Basra air base in the south.

London newspapers have reported that Britain intends to begin its withdrawal in March with most troops out by June, although defence officials insist that the precise timetable will depend on conditions on the ground at the time.

“We plan — subject to the conditions on the ground and the advice of military commanders — to reduce our force levels in Iraq as we complete our key tasks in Basra in the early months of next year,” a British defence ministry spokesperson said last week.

But he added: “Final decisions on the timing of the drawdown will depend on the circumstances at the time.”

From a peak of 46 000 British soldiers in 2003 when Britain joined the invasion, just 4 100 now remain in Iraq.

After a meeting with Hammudi, British ambassador Christopher Prentice said that the draft law to be submitted to Parliament would pave the way to a new relationship between London and Baghdad.

“This law provides the legal base for us to complete our mission here, and to complete our support for the Iraqi armed forces and to continue essentially our training role in supporting the Iraqi forces,” he said.

“This law and the subsequent arrangements to be agreed with the government will together provide the bases for moving into a new relationship with the new Iraq,” said Prentice.

“We look forward to a vote in the next weeks in Parliament on that law, and we hope that it will be accepted.”

Up to 400 British troops are likely to remain to help train the Iraqi forces, while equipment such as helicopters and drones will be transferred to Afghanistan.

Since the US-led invasion of March 2003, 177 British troops have died in Iraq. – AFP