Britain And US To
'Speed Up' Iraq Withdrawal

By Kim Pilling, PA News
The Independent - UK

Britain and the US have drawn up plans to withdraw coalition troops from Iraq as soon as possible, according to reports.
A briefing from Government sources indicated a greater urgency for the clear "exit strategy" to help Iraq develop its army, police force, civil defence corps and intelligence service.
Previously, officials in London and Washington have said forces could stay "for as long as it takes".
The Prime Minister's official spokesman said Tony Blair and President George Bush had agreed to "speed up" the transfer of authority to help achieve the goal of handing full sovereignty to Iraq on July 1.
Downing Street said the aim was to have a strategy which would bring British troops "as quickly as possible - but as quickly as possible when we can leave behind an effective government and security apparatus".
Ministers are today expected to come under fresh pressure over Iraq as MPs debate the conflict in the Commons.
Thousands more soldiers are expected to be deployed shortly to help counter the spiralling violence.
Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon yesterday ruled out allowing MPs to vote on further deployments.
Mr Hoon stressed no decision had been made but said he already had a mandate to send whatever forces were required.
"Clearly if the commanding officer on the ground says at very short notice we require extra troops because of some significant deterioration in the security it would irresponsible of me not to agree to that request and agree to it very promptly," he said.
Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy agreed but said: "That is very different indeed from saying we will expand dramatically either the geography - the field of operations - outside where we are at the moment or that we place ourselves under the American control in those areas."
Labour left-wingers are expected to join the Lib Dems in arguing for a vote in the Commons debate, called by Mr Kennedy.
Fresh calls for Mr Blair to distance himself from President Bush are also likely.
Former foreign secretary Robin Cook, who quit the Cabinet over Iraq, yesterday said the Government should plan a way to pull out British troops.
"We really do need to get elections quickly, find a genuinely representative government of Iraq, recognise that frankly it's not going to be sympathetic to the coalition forces who are now so unpopular in Iraq," he said.
"And I personally think we need an exit strategy that says as soon as elections have been held, as soon as there is a democratic government to run Iraq, we're getting out."
Mr Hoon said he was "disappointed" with Mr Cook who was aware, from his former role, that "these decisions have to be taken in light of events on the ground".



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