Brown Announces Phased Withdrawal From Iraq, Says Troop Reductions Have Made Basra ‘Calmer’

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"Brown Announces Phased Withdrawal From Iraq, Says Troop Reductions Have Made Basra ‘Calmer’"

In a speech to the British Parliament this morning, Prime Minister Gordon Brown announced that he will cut troop levels in Iraq to 2,500 in early 2008, trimming the force by nearly half. “Britain has around 5,000 troops based mainly at an air base camp on the fringe of the southern city of Basra.”

Brown explained that since British forces “handed over our base in Basra City in early September, the present security situation has been calmer.” As evidence, he noted, “In the last month, there have been five indirect fire attacks on Basra Air Station compared with 87 in July.”

Indeed, Reuters reported last week, “Residents of Iraq’s southern city of Basra have begun strolling riverfront streets again after four years of fear, their city much quieter since British troops withdrew from the grand Saddam Hussein-era Basra Palace.”

Given the success of the withdrawal to date, Brown announced that the British would proceed with the next phase of redeployment:

The next important stage in delivering our strategy is to hand over security to the Iraqis, and it is to move from a combat role in the rest of Basra province to overwatch, which will itself have two distinct stages.

In the first, the British forces that remain in Iraq will have the following tasks: training and mentoring the Iraqi army and police force, securing supply routes and policing the Iran-Iraq border, and the ability to come to the assistance of the Iraqi security forces when called upon.

Then in the spring of next year, and guided as always by the advice of military commanders, we plan to move to a second stage of overwatch where the coalition would maintain a more limited re- intervention capacity and where the main focus will be on training and mentoring. […]

And, subject of course to conditions on the ground, we plan from next spring to reduce force numbers in southern Iraq to a figure of 2,500.

Watch it:

UPDATE: ThinkProgress noted last week that the White House has been attacking the British for its withdrawal, claiming “British forces have performed poorly” in Iraq.

Transcript:

BROWN: Since we handed over our base in Basra City in early September, the present security situation has been calmer. Indeed, in the last month, there have been five indirect fire attacks on Basra Air Station compared with 87 in July.

And while the four southern provinces of around 20 percent of the population, they account for less than 5 percent of overall violence in Iraq.

During our engagement in Iraq, we’ve always made clear that all our decisions must and will be based on the basis of assessments of our military commanders and actual conditions on the ground.

As a result of the progress made in southern Iraq, U.S., U.K., and Iraqi commanders judged over the last 15 months that three out of the four provinces in the U.K. area of control in southern Iraq were suitable for transition to the Iraqis. These are subsequently to be transferred to Iraqi control.

As part of the process of putting the Iraqi forces in the lead now in Basra, we have just gone through a demanding operation which involved consolidating our forces at Basra airport. This was successfully completed as planned last month.

The next important stage in delivering our strategy is to hand over security to the Iraqis, and it is to move from a combat role to the rest — in the rest of Basra province to overwatch, which will itself have two distinct stages.

In the first, the British forces that remain in Iraq will have the following tasks: training and mentoring the Iraqi army and police force, securing supply routes and policing the Iran-Iraq border, and the ability to come to the assistance of the Iraqi security forces when called upon.

Then in the spring of next year, and guided as always by the advice of military commanders, we plan to move to a second stage of overwatch where the coalition would maintain a more limited re- intervention capacity and where the main focus will be on training and mentoring.

And I want now to explain how after detailed discussions with our military commanders, a meeting of the Nation Security Committee, discussions with the Iraqi government and our allies. And, subject of course to conditions on the ground, we plan from next spring to reduce force numbers in southern Iraq to a figure of 2,500.

The first stage begins now with the Iraqis already assuming security responsibility. We expect to establish provincial Iraqi corps in Basra province in the next two months, as already announced by the prime minister of Iraq, move to the first stage of overwatch, reduce numbers in southern Iraq from at the start of September 5,500 to 4,500 immediately after provincial Iraqi control, and then to 4,000.

And then in the second stage of overwatch in the spring, and guided as always by advice of military commanders, reduce to around 2,500 troops, with a further decision about the next phase made then. And in both stages of overwatch, around 500 logistics and support personnel will be based outside Iraq but elsewhere in the region.

At all times, therefore, achieving our long-term aim of handing over security to the Iraqi armed forces and police, honoring our obligations to the Iraqi people and their security, ensuring the safety of our forces.

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