UK troops could withdraw from Iraq in 2006

British troops could be out of southern Iraq by the end of next year, Defence Secretary John Reid indicated today.

British troops could be out of southern Iraq by the end of next year, Defence Secretary John Reid indicated today.

Mr Reid was responding to the remarks of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, who said he expected homegrown troops to be ready to take over security responsibilities in the UK-patrolled southern sector of the country by the end of 2006.

Neither the British nor Iraqi authorities have so far been willing to set a timetable for the withdrawal of multi-national forces, who have been in Iraq since the war of 2003. And Mr Reid was careful to stress that the government's aim of beginning a draw-down in the course of the next year was dependent on the security situation on the ground.

In a statement, the Defence Secretary said: "President Talabani's comments are consistent with our aims.


"As I have consistently said, we will stay in Iraq until the job is done and the Iraqis are able to provide their own security.

"This process of handover to the Iraqis is one which could begin in the course of the coming year."

Mr Reid was backed up by the Army's most senior officer, Chief of General Staff General Sir Mike Jackson. In an interview on BBC1's Sunday AM, Gen Jackson said that Mr Talabani's prediction of a British departure by the end of 2006 was "well within the range of what is realistically possible".

But he said it was unhelpful to regard the withdrawal process as being driven by time considerations.

"What we are trying to achieve are a set of conditions at which point we have the confidence - and more importantly the Iraqi government and Iraqi people have the confidence - that they can fully stand on their own feet and there is no requirement to be supported by the coalition," said the General.

"When these conditions come together, then the time will be right. "The President has said that we could leave within a year, and I would agree we most certainly could, but it is a question of achieving the right conditions."

President Talabani made clear he was not committing himself to any deadline for the removal of foreign troops from Iraqi soil, and warned that a rushed withdrawal could lead to "catastrophe".

But he told ITV1's Jonathan Dimbleby programme that no Iraqis want UK soldiers to remain indefinitely in their country.

"We don't want British forces forever in Iraq," he said. "Within one year - I think at the end of 2006 - Iraqi troops will be ready to replace British forces in the South."

Pressed on whether this assessment amounted to a commitment, he replied: "Well, I haven't been in negotiations, but in my opinion and according to my study of the situation I can say that it is the just estimation of the situation."