Allies signal big pullout from Iraq

The Times February 02, 2006

Allies signal big pullout from Iraq
By Richard Beeston and Daniel McGrory

BRITAIN and America are preparing for a pullout of troops from Iraq that could cut the number of coalition forces by a third in 2006.
The acceleration of plans to bring soldiers home was given added poignancy yesterday as the father of Corporal Gordon Pritchard, the 100th member of the British military to die since the Iraq conflict began, told The Times that his son believed the Army was “doing a lot of good” in Iraq.

Bill Pritchard said: “My son loved being in the Army and he wanted to do his bit in Iraq.

“He loved it when he could work with the Iraqi people, making their lives better.”

Corporal Pritchard, 31, died after volunteering to lead a supply convoy into the port town of Umm Qasr on Tuesday, where insurgents detonated a remote-controlled bomb as his armoured Land Rover passed.

Mr Pritchard said: “The last thing Gordon said to me and his wife, Julie-Anne, was, ‘I will make a difference, and I will make you proud of me’.”

Yesterday Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, predicted “good news” this year as British soldiers begin to hand over responsibility for their sector of southern Iraq to local forces.

“We are in active discussions about how we draw down our troops on a province by province basis as we and the Iraqi Government are convinced it is safe for them and for us to do so,” Mr Straw said. “And I think we will see, over the next 12 months, some good news in that respect,” he said.

As The Times first reported in December, American and British commanders have drawn up detailed plans for a pullout that they will present to the new Iraqi Government, which should be in place by next month.

Mowaffak al-Rubaie, the chairman of a joint Iraqi-coalition committee planning the transfer of security in the country, predicted this week that the number of foreign troops in his country would fall below 100,000 from its present level of 160,000. He said that plans were so advanced that an “instruction book” had been prepared, setting out which units would be leaving which areas.

“By the end of 2007 the overwhelming majority of the multinational forces will have left the country,” he said.

Britain currently has 8,000 troops in four provinces of southern Iraq. It is understood that British forces are preparing to hand over control of two of them, Maysan and Muthana, before the summer. By the end of the year, newly deployed British forces in Afghanistan may outnumber the contingent in Iraq.

America has already begun a substantial reduction of its forces. In December it had 160,000 troops on the ground. Today the number is down to 138,000 and falling. This week US troops handed over a major military base in Baghdad to a new Iraqi brigade.

As the debate intensified over the strategy for reducing Britain’s presence in Iraq it emerged that Tony Blair had met Corporal Pritchard six weeks ago during his visit to frontline troops in Basra in southern Iraq. A grinning Mr Blair was photographed standing alongside the father of three at the Shaibah base in southern Iraq.

Last night Corporal Pritchard’s father said that if the Prime Minister sent his family a letter of condolence he would return it to No 10 unopened. “I don’t believe Mr Blair remembered meeting my son until some aide pointed it out. It was a photo opportunity for him, so spare us the hypocrisy.”

King George needs the reserve and guard home, for the Nov elections to the Hill.
And Blur needs troops for Ganistan.

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