Tony Blair set a 16-month limit for keeping British troops in Iraq yesterday as he admitted for the first time that they would be a “provocation” if they stayed too long. It was British policy to “withdraw progressively” when Iraq’s own security forces were able to take over.
Quoting from a statement by Gen George Casey, the US coalition commander, Mr Blair said: “I don’t have the date but I can see over the next 12 to 18 months the Iraqi security forces progressing to a point where they can take on the security responsibilities for the country. “That is the policy of ourselves, our allies — not just America — but the other 20 or so countries there.”
[…] Mr Blair insisted he would not change the overall strategy of keeping troops in Iraq to help establish democracy but accepted that there would be a limit to the time when allied troops were welcome. “It is our policy to withdraw progressively from Iraq as the Iraqi forces are capable of taking on the security task. That is why it is important when we are able to hand over to them that we do so. “Otherwise, of course, we are a provocation rather than a help to them.”