Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Iraq leader welcomes troops' exit


Tony Blair's plan to recall 1,600 British troops from Iraq within the next few months has been welcomed by the country's president.

Jalal Talabani's spokesman said it was a "welcome catalyst" that would force Iraqi forces to take responsibility for the country's security.

It comes after Mr Blair said troop numbers would drop from 7,100 to 5,500 and possibly to 5,000 by late summer.

Remaining troops will stay into 2008, to provide back-up and secure borders.

Hiwa Osman, the Iraqi president's spokesman, said Mr Blair's announcement was a "welcome catalyst for Iraqi forces to stand on their own feet and assume security responsibilities".

Mr Blair's statement follows a five-month security operation to quell violence in British-controlled Basra.

He said Operation Sinbad, aimed at allowing Iraqis to take the lead in frontline security in the city, had been successful.

The prime minister acknowledged that Basra was still "difficult and sometimes dangerous", but he said levels of murder and kidnappings had dropped and reconstruction was under way.

He said that it was important to show the Iraqis that Britain - and the other multinational force members - did not intend their forces to stay longer than necessary. .....

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