Secret plan to pull troops out of Iraq in nine months

Under the plan, the British contingent could be reduced from 8,500 to 3,000, with some soldiers coming home as soon as October and more returning in April. US numbers could also be more than halved over the same period.

The suggested "military drawdown" is set out in a leaked memo from Mr Reid to Tony Blair. The Ministry of Defence has confirmed that the document is genuine, stressing that it is one of several papers setting out "various scenarios" affecting troop presence in Iraq.

Ministers have always maintained that Allied soldiers will not leave the country until Iraqi security forces are considered capable of taking over. But the paper discloses that a detailed "exit strategy" is being considered by the MoD and proposes a possible timetable.

British troops patrol the mainly Shia south of the country, which has been relatively stable and has been spared the worst of the continuing insurgency.

The paper, entitled "Options for future UK force posture in Iraq", says there is a "clear UK military aspiration" to transfer the provinces of Muthanna and Maysan to Iraqi control in October and the other two UK-controlled provinces the following April.

"This should lead to a reduction in the total level of UK commitment in Iraq to around 3,000 personnel, ie small scale," it says. The paper, marked "UK eyes only", says Washington is also discussing plans to cut its force of 176,000 to just 66,000 by early 2006.

"There is a strong US military desire for significant force reductions to bring relief to overall US commitment levels.

"Emerging US plans assume 14 out of 18 provinces could be handed over to Iraqi control by early 2006," Mr Reid writes.

But in an observation that will embarrass Whitehall, he says the Americans are divided over whether to cut troop numbers so sharply. The Pentagon wants a "relatively bold reduction", while US commanders in Iraq favour a more cautious approach, he discloses.

The memo, obtained by The Mail on Sunday, estimates that the British withdrawals could cut the annual cost of policing Iraq from £1bn to £500m by the end of 2006. Mr Reid adds: "We will need to consider handling of other allies. The Japanese reconstruction battalion will be reluctant to stay if force protection is solely provided by Iraqis. The Australian position may also be uncertain."

Mr Reid made little attempt to disguise his irritation over the leak. He said yesterday: "We have made it absolutely plain that we will stay in Iraq for as long as is needed.

"We have always said that it is our intention to hand over the lead in fighting terrorists to Iraqi security forces as their capability increases.

"We therefore continually produce papers outlining possible options and contingencies.

"This is but one of a number of such papers produced over recent months covering various scenarios. This is prudent planning. I stress again that no decisions on the future force posture of UK forces have been taken."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Personal Tax Senior

£28000 - £37000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Customer and Markets Development Executive

£22000 - £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company's mission is to ma...

Recruitment Genius: Guest Services Assistant

£13832 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This 5 star leisure destination on the w...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Account Manager

£20000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Account Manager is requ...

Day In a Page

A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

A nap a day could save your life

A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

If men are so obsessed by sex...

...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

Rolling in the deep

The bathing machine is back but with a difference
Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935
The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory