British troops to start Iraq pullout in March

Britain will begin withdrawing its 4,100-strong force from Iraq by the beginning of March, with almost all troops leaving within a few months, a senior defence source revealed yesterday. The Prime Minister is expected to announce the pullout that, in effect, ends the UK's engagement in one of the most controversial wars in recent times, in the Commons next January.

Most of the helicopters and unmanned Predator aircraft will be transferred to Afghanistan, and ministers will consider whether to send extra troops to Helmand for a temporary "surge" in time for the country's elections in September next year. The UK forces in Basra are to be replaced by American troops who are expected to set up their southern Iraq headquarters in the city. As well as guarding the Iranian border, the US contingent will safeguard supply lines into Iraq.

A small detachment of UK troops of about 400 will remain behind, with an officer with the rank approximating a brigadier, to train Iraqi forces. Britain will continue to train the Iraqi navy and also set up and run a staff college for officers in the country's armed forces.

Gordon Brown had said this year that there would be a "fundamental change of mission" in Iraq in 2009. The exact timetable of the withdrawal could not be formulated during negotiations with the Iraqi government of Nouri al-Maliki over the crucial Status of Force Agreement (Sofa) to work out the conditions of the troops leaving as well as those who would be staying behind. That agreement is now expected to be signed by the end of the year after approval by the Baghdad parliament.

The British military, it seems, had been moving equipment out of Iraq for some time in anticipation of the drawdown, in an operation codenamed Archive. The gradual removal of assets is designed to minimise the need for long convoys heading out of Basra towards the Iraq border which would present a target for the militias to attack.

American and British commanders say that disengagement from Iraq, with the loss so far of 177 British service personnel and thousands of Iraqis, can be done because there has been a dramatic improvement in the security situation in Basra and other southern areas since the operation, Charge of the Knights, conducted by Iraqi government, US and British forces this year.

Unlike Afghanistan, where British and Nato forces face daily attacks, there have only been isolated incidents, either with roadside bombs or firearms, in the past few months.

There has also been a notable decline in the supply of weapons and explosives across the Iranian border, and a decrease in what was claimed as Iranian attempts to destabilise Iraq. It appears, said the senior officer, that Tehran did not want an unstable country next door and accepted that Iraq will play its role as a Shia power in the region. Senior British officers are also of the opinion that the radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, the leader of the Shia Mahdi Army, will enter the political process.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Ashdown Group: Graduate UI Developer - HTML, CSS, Javascript

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Graduate UI Application Developer - ...

Day In a Page

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?
Season's finale brings the end of an era for top coaches and players across the continent

The end of an era across the continent

It's time to say farewell to Klopp, Clement, Casillas and Xavi this weekend as they move on to pastures new, reports Pete Jenson
Bin Laden documents released: Papers reveal his obsession with attacking the US and how his failure to keep up with modern jihad led to Isis

'Focus on killing American people'

Released Bin Laden documents reveal obsession with attacking United States
Life hacks: The innovations of volunteers and medical workers are helping Medécins Sans Frontières save people around the world

Medécins Sans Frontières's life hacks

The innovations of volunteers and medical workers around the world are helping the charity save people
Ireland's same-sex marriage vote: As date looms, the Irish ask - how would God vote?

Same-sex marriage

As date looms, the Irish ask - how would God vote?
The underworld is going freelance: Why The Godfather's Mafia model is no longer viable

The Mafia is going freelance

Why the underworld model depicted in The Godfather is no longer viable