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Memo says US, UK preparing for Iraq pullout
Sydney Morning Herald
A leaked document from Britain's Defence Ministry says the British and US governments are planning to reduce their troop levels in Iraq by more than half by mid-2006, the Mail on Sunday newspaper reported.
The memo, reportedly written by the Defence Minister, John Reid, said Britain would reduce its troop numbers to 3,000 from 8,500 by the middle of next year.
"We have a commitment to hand over to Iraqi control in Al Muthanna and Maysan provinces [two of the four provinces under British control in southern Iraq] in October 2005 and in the other two, Dhi Qar and Basra, in April 2006," the memo was reported to have said.
Australia also has troops stationed in Al Muthanna province to train Iraqi forces and guard a Japanese contingent working on reconstruction projects.
The British memo said Washington planned to cut its forces in Iraq to 66,000 from about 140,000 by early 2006.
"Emerging US plans assume 14 out of 18 provinces could be handed over to Iraqi control by early 2006," the memo said.
The United States and Britain have the two largest contingents of foreign forces in Iraq and the memo described the impact a reduction of US and British forces might have on other allied troops.
"The Japanese will be reluctant to stay if protection is solely provided by the Iraqis. The Australian position may also be uncertain."
The United States is training Iraqi forces to take over the country's defence in the face of an insurgency involving allies of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and foreign militants allied to al-Qaeda operative Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.
But critics say Iraqi troops are not ready to take charge of security in their country.
"There is, however, a debate between the Pentagon/Centcom, who favour a relatively bold reduction in force numbers and the multi-national force in Iraq, whose approach is more cautious," read the memo.
Reid said in a statement in response the article:
"We have made it absolutely plain we will stay in Iraq for as long as is needed. No decision on the future force posture of UK forces has been taken.
"We have always said 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."
The memo said reducing British troop levels in Iraq would save about £1 billion ($2.4 billion) per year.