UK and Denmark announce troop withdrawals from Iraq

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Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Location of Basra.

Tony Blair has announced that the United Kingdom will lower the number of troops in Iraq from 7,100 to 5,500 during the "coming months", and below 5,000 by late summer, if the Iraqi government can secure the southern part of the country. British troops will remain in Iraq until at least 2008. In Denmark, prime minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen announced his country will completely withdraw its forces, about 460 soldiers, from Iraq. Lithuania is also "seriously considering" pulling out their 56 soldiers, according to a government spokeswoman.

Blair admitted that the situation in Basra, the port city were the British operate mostly, was not yet how he wanted it, but that "the next chapter in Basra’s history can be written by Iraqis." The withdrawal contrasts with the 20,000 extra troops announced by U.S. President Bush. Blair explained that the situation in Baghdad is very different, because of "an orgy of terrorism".

Blair envisions a pullback, leaving the U.K. with support and training tasks, while Iraqis would patrol the city. The pace of the withdrawal "depends, of course, in part on what we do, what the Iraqi authorities themselves do, but also on the attitude of those we are together fighting," according to the prime minister. Over the last weeks, the British have conducted 'operation Sinbad' against Shiite militias in Basra. On Sunday, Blair said in a T.V. interview that the operation was now complete.

On Tuesday, an Iraqi Army division in Basra was transferred to Iraqi control. The Ministry of Defence spoke of an "important step" toward taking up responsibilities in the area.

Rumours of the pullback had already emerged on Tuesday. A White House spokesperson had stated that "while the United Kingdom is maintaining a robust force in southern Iraq, we’re pleased that conditions in Basra have improved sufficiently that they are able to transition more control to the Iraqis." The press was told that Bush "sees this as a sign of success and what is possible for us once we help the Iraqis deal with the sectarian violence in Baghdad."