Blair under renewed pressure to deliver exit strategy from Iraq

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Indy Politics

Tony Blair is facing renewed and angry demands to set out a timetable for the withdrawal of troops from Iraq in the wake of yesterday's deaths in Basra.

MPs from across the political spectrum will attempt to force the Government to disclose its exit strategy in the Commons next week.

They are furious that Mr Blair, who gives evidence tomorrow to the Iraq Study Group reassessing US policy, has so far failed to provide any details of plans to pull British soldiers out.

Doug Henderson, a former Armed Forces Minister, said: "The quicker we get out, the fewer soldiers are going to be killed or injured.

"Public opinion thinks they have been there long enough. It's quite clear that to bring a bit of stability we need a movement out as soon as possible."

In a potentially significant change of tack, the Prime Minister will today concede that the British approach to Iraq must "evolve" to tackle the changing nature of the conflict.

Speaking at his annual foreign affairs address at London's Guildhall, Mr Blair will call for a wide-ranging Middle East strategy tackling all of its problems, including bringing peace to Lebanon and Palestine.

Mr Henderson called for Syria and Iran to be involved in bringing stability to Iraq, enabling the phased withdrawal of British troops. The Liberal Democrats are also demanding that the UK forces are pulled out "sooner rather than later". Their leader, Sir Menzies Campbell, said: "Our thoughts must immediately be with the families and friends of those who have been killed and injured. On this particular day these casualties are a powerful and poignant reminder of the difficult and dangerous tasks we ask our armed forces to undertake."

Des Browne, the Defence Secretary, said: "Today at the Cenotaph and across the country, we remembered those brave souls that have served this nation across the years. That dedication is still evident and the events today in Iraq are a stark reminder of the perils they face."

The Scottish Nationalist Party and Plaid Cymru are tabling an amendment to the Queen's Speech demanding a Commons debate on an exit strategy.

It is also being backed by Kenneth Clarke, the former Conservative chancellor, Clare Short, the former Labour cabinet minister and the Labour left-winger John McDonnell. Ms Short, who has resigned the Labour whip, said: "We need to know what the exit strategy is - we need to have a serious discussion about it. Despite the optimism after the American elections, I believe there isn't one, because the Americans want permanent bases in Iraq. On the present strategy, the insurgency will continue indefinitely."

Sir Malcolm Rifkind, the former defence secretary, argued that Britain did not have the "luxury" of leaving a situation it had helped to create.

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