Mail Online | All British forces are set to be pulled out of Iraq within a year, it emerged today. Plans for a phased withdrawal are back on track after a reduction in violence in Basra over recent months. Whitehall officials are now working on a new timetable for the move.
Killed in Afghanistan: From left, privates Charles Murray, Nathan Cuthbertson and Daniel Gamble died on Sunday, taking the British toll there to 100The pull-out of the remaining 4,000 troops serving in Iraq is sure to be seized on by Labour Ministers as proof that a line has finally been drawn under Tony Blair’s biggest foreign policy disaster.
The withdrawal is expected to be announced by the end of this year if the security situation remains positive – with the actual operation taking place sometime next spring.
At the peak of British military activity in Iraq in 2003 there were 26,000 soldiers deployed in the country as part of Operation Telic – as well as 4,000 marines, 5,000 sailors and 8,100 RAF personnel.
British commanders handed over security responsibility in Basra province to the Iraqis last December.
Gordon Brown had been hoping to announce the final pull-out earlier this year, but previous plans to reduce troop numbers to 2,500 were put on hold in March after a bout of violence dubbed the ‘battle of Basra’.
Coming home: British soldiers patrol the centre of Basra (file picture)
It is understood that the next announcement on troop numbers – the latest phased cut in numbers rather than the final withdrawal – will be made next month to the House of Commons.
On a recent visit to Basra, Defence Secretary Des Browne was able to walk the streets of what he described as a ‘ transformed city’.
The Prime Minister first announced last October that troop numbers in Iraq would be cut from 5,000 to 4,000.
His announcement, at the height of speculation about an autumn general election, triggered widespread criticism because the move was seen as being political.
Plans to cut numbers further this spring were put on hold when British forces became directly involved in fighting between the Iraqi army and Shia militiamen.
The Defence Secretary said recently that the ‘direction of travel’ of the withdrawal remained ‘clear’ but security had to be maintained by local forces.
However, any withdrawal of troops could take many months after a political announcement is made.
Recent secret discussions on the pull-out included Whitehall advisers, but the Government was refusing to comment fully today.
The Ministry of Defence insisted ‘no decisions’ had been taken about withdrawing troops from Iraq and said the suggestion that a final announcement could be made by the end of the year was ‘speculation’.
The Prime Minister’s advisers have long hoped that he can gain a ‘peace dividend’ from the end of operations in Iraq, focusing instead on Afghanistan. It will release badly needed resources for the fight against the Taliban.
Whitehall insiders believe that despite the British death toll rising to 100 after three members of 2 Para were killed on Sunday, the battle against the Taliban is potentially an easier war to sell to the public.