Ancram calls for troops to return home from Iraq

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The former shadow foreign secretary Michael Ancram has broken ranks with the Conservative leader David Cameron and called for British troops to come home from Iraq now "with honour and dignity and pride".

Mr Ancram, who supported the war, is the most senior British politician so far to call for the troops to be pulled out of Iraq. He breached a cross-party consensus that withdrawing the troops would lead to more bloodshed.

However, the pressure to withdraw the troops is mounting. Anti-war Labour MPs were told yesterday that Labour Against the War are planning to mount a "time to go" demonstration on the eve of the party's conference in Manchester.

It will coincide with a peace camp organised by the organisation Military Families Against the War.

"There is now a spin exercise by Bush and Blair to hide the horrific reality of Iraq under US-UK occupation," a message sent to all Labour MPs said. "In truth, the killing and the chaos in Iraq is intensifying. Building support for the 23 September Time to Go demonstration should be the priority of everyone who wants to contribute to ending this war."

Tony Blair insisted yesterday that British troops would stay to "get the job done", saying it was the "British way" after being challenged by Mr Ancram at Prime Minister's Questions.

Mr Ancram praised the "tremendous" reconstruction work carried out by "brave" British troops. "But given also the fact that there is a fast-diminishing prospect of further positive achievement in the face of the growing sectarian violence in that country, is it time now with honour and dignity and pride to bring our troops home?" he asked.

Mr Blair said leaving Iraq while its politicians wanted forces to remain would be "the worst message we could send" to terrorists around the world. He told Mr Ancram: "I'm sorry you say that because I know you supported the presence of British troops there."

Mr Blair added that there was a democratic government in Iraq which believed coalition troops should stay.

He said: "What we have to understand is that the fight there, as in Afghanistan, is part of the wider struggle against this type of global terrorism."

Sir Malcolm Rifkind, the former Tory foreign secretary, who opposed the war, disagreed with Mr Ancram and said British troops could be required to stay in Iraq for four more years.

He said: "I think the Government is being optimistic in the timescale. I want to get them [the troops] out... but to pull them out now would be unwise and send all the wrong signals."