THE JOURNAL consists of selected, most notable and newsworthy POSTINGS OF THE DAY.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

British Withdrawal

Blair to announce British troop withdrawal from Iraq ?

British Prime Minister Tony Blair was to announce on Wednesday that his country will begin withdrawing thousands of troops from Iraq within weeks, according to media reports.

According to The Sun, The Times and the BBC, Blair would say that the first contingent of about 1,500 troops will leave the war-torn country and return to Britain in a matter of weeks, and a further 1,500 will follow by the end of the year.

The Guardian said, meanwhile, that Britain will withdraw all of its troops from Iraq by the end of 2008, beginning this summer with about a thousand troops, citing unidentified officials.

While a spokesman for Blair's Downing Street office declined to confirm or deny any of the reports, White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe confirmed that Blair told US President George W. Bush Tuesday of his plans for troop withdrawal.

Blair is set to appear before parliament on Wednesday for his weekly half-hour question-and-answer session. According to the BBC and Britain's domestic Press Association, Blair is expected to make his announcement shortly after that, at around 12:30 pm.

The political calendar has also favoured a withdrawal - Blair is set to resign by September, with finance minister Gordon Brown the favourite to succeed him, and Labour is lagging behind the main opposition Conservatives in opinion polls in the run-up to local and Scottish elections in May.

Britain has about 7,100 troops in Iraq, most of them based around Basra. It is the second-largest foreign contingent of soldiers after that of the United States.

The country's apparent decision to pull troops out of Iraq comes soon after Bush announced he would send 21,500 extra combat troops to the country, on top of the 138,000 US soldiers already there.

According to several of the media reports, Blair will say that Operation Sinbad -- involving attempts by British and Iraqi troops to secure Basra from insurgents -- has been a success, but will also stress that hopes for a withdrawal are conditional on signs that Iraqi forces are able to take over.

The United Nations said in January that at least 34,452 Iraqis died across the country and another 36,685 were wounded in 2006.

A total of 132 British troops have died since the start of the US-led invasion in March 2003 while there have been 3,127 US military fatalities in the same period, according to an AFP count based on Pentagon figures - AFP.