02/22/2007, 00.00
IRAQ - GREAT BRITAIN
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Iraq welcomes withdrawal of UK troops

A spokesman of the President Jalal Talabani has defined the exit strategy as a stimulus to make the Iraqi forces take responsibility for national security. The White House reads the move as a mark of the success of the coalition strategy while opponents of Bush are pointing to London’s break away from US policy.
Baghdad (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Iraq has welcomed the plan of phased withdrawal announced by the British premier Tony Blair yesterday. A spokesman of the President Jalal Talabani said this was a “welcome catalyst” for Iraqi forces to assume responsibility for national security.
 
Great Britain will start to withdraw its troops in southern Iraq between April and May, reducing the contingent from the current 7,100 to 5,500. By late summer, the number of troops could drop to 5,000. London’s military presence in Iraq ranks second only to the United States. Yesterday the government of Denmark also decided to withdraw its 470 troops by August.
 
Blair emphasized that a military presence will be maintained “until 2008 and anyhow until there is need and work to do.” Satisfaction has been voiced by the White House which sees the British exit plan as a sign of progress in the strategy aiming to empower Iraqi security forces. Opponents of US president George W. Bush, however, are discerning an unprecedented break of London from US policy. The announcement of Downing Street came as Washington sends another 21,500 soldiers to Iraq.
 
During his speech yesterday in the House of Commons, Blair said Operation Sinbad, aimed at allowing Iraqis to take control of Basra, had been successful. However he acknowledged that the city was still "difficult and sometimes dangerous", although the number of murder and kidnappings had dropped and reconstruction was under way.  He said that it was important to show the Iraqis that Britain and other multinational force members did not intend to stay longer than necessary in Iraq.
 
Mowaffak al-Rubaie, Iraq's national security adviser, praised the efforts of the British Army but wished the pullout could be quicker.
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