Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Time to go...

From The Times

December 15, 2008

Britain faces humiliating Iraq withdrawal

Deborah Haynes in Baghdad

British Forces will leave Iraq by the end of next July under a humiliating proposal that lumps the once-valued deployment with five smaller contingents, including those of Romania, El Salvador and Estonia.

Even as President Bush paid a surprise farewell visit to Baghdad yesterday to celebrate the passage of a bilateral accord with Iraq, Britain faced being only a part of a shared military pact after negotiators ran out of time to seal country-specific deals.

Under the US-Iraq status of forces agreement, drawn up after nine months of heated negotiation, US forces will leave within three years. The deal for Britain and the others was described by Muwafaq al-Rubaie, Iraq's National Security Adviser, as a "mini-agreement for the six entities".

The proposed legislation states that all duties performed by the contingents, which include 42 Australian officers and 200 troops from 15 Nato countries, as well as the larger British presence, must stop by the end of May. "There will be two months' grace for the forces to leave Iraq by July 31," Fawzi Hariri, the Iraqi Industry Minister, said. "There was no way we could have done a security agreement to the same level of detail that we had with the Americans in such a short period."

The Iraqi Government has the option to ask certain elements to remain beyond July to help with specific tasks, such as training the small Iraqi Navy. "We believe this is a workable document and we discussed it at the Cabinet level," Mr Hariri told The Times.

Ministers vote on the deal tomorrow. If passed, it will go before the Iraqi parliament later in the week.

Grouping Britain with contingents such as Estonia, which has only 36 soldiers in Iraq, and El Salvador, with a mere 200, is a far cry from the start of the invasion when British Forces were second in importance only to those of the US.

However, the pact will provide much needed legal cover for 4,100 British troops, largely based in southern Iraq, beyond the end of the year when the UN mandate authorising the presence of all foreign forces expires.

A British government spokeswoman declined to comment on "leaked" information.

Yesterday Mr Bush ducked – twice – as an Iraqi journalist hurled his shoes at him as he shook hands with Nouri al-Maliki, the Prime Minister. "It is the farewell kiss, you dog," Muntazer al-Zaidi, from the Cairo-based al-Baghdadia channel, said, before security staff took him away.

Earlier, Mr Bush defended the invasion of Iraq and heralded the US-Iraqi accord as a "reminder of our friendship and a way forward to help the Iraqis to realise the blessings of a free society". Speaking after meeting President Talabani, he said of the invasion and the aftermath: "The work hasn’t been easy, but it has been necessary for American security, Iraqi hope and world peace."



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