February 21, 2007
America's biggest ally in Iraq says it's time its troops come home.
"Over the coming months, we will transfer more of the responsibility
directly to Iraqis" said British Prime Minister Tony Blair.
At a time when the U.S. is struggling to support a surge of 21,000 extra American forces, Britain announces that it's pulling 1,600 troops out of southern Iraq.
That will drop British troop levels to under 5,000, and Prime Minister
Tony Blair indicated all British forces may be gone by next year.
"The speed at which this happens depends in part on what we do, what Iraqi authorities do, but also on the attitude of those we're fighting" said Blair.
Prime Minister Blair has described the sectarian violence as wretched
and inexcusable bloodshed, but he acknowledges the hostility
American forces face in Baghdad and regions to the north is entirely
different from what British forces are seeing in the south.
Almost all of the sporadic attacks in Basra have been aimed at British
forces themselves. More than 130 soldiers have died since the conflict
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is downplaying the significance of
the British draw-down.
"The coalition remains intact and in fact the British will have thousands
of soldiers deployed in Iraq in the south" said Rice.
But as the American military ramps up for new offensive in Iraq, friendly forces will be shrinking in the neighborhood.