Gordon Brown dashed hopes that he was about to announce a withdrawal of British troops from Iraq when he rejected calls by Labour MPs and the Iraqi Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, for a clear timetable to pull out. "I cannot set an artificial timetable," the Prime Minister said yesterday.
Mr Brown is due to deliver a statement on Iraq to MPs before the summer recess of Parliament on 22 July. Labour MPs said they were disappointed by his response. A cross-party Commons motion has been signed by nine MPs, urging Mr Brown to announce a timetable for the withdrawal of troops.
It was led by Ian Gibson, a Labour MP who said Mr Brown could "transform" his leadership if he pulled troops out of Iraq.
"If Gordon said he is bringing our troops home, he would walk the Glasgow East by-election. He would walk on water," he said. "I find his comments surprising because I have not heard any convincing argument to justify keeping troops in Iraq indefinitely."
Last week Mr Maliki raised the prospect of setting a timetable for the withdrawal of US-led forces, for the first time, as part of negotiations over a new security deal with Washington.
Mr Brown is expected to discuss Iraq with Barack Obama when the US presidential candidate arrives in Britain on Friday.