Wednesday, July 09, 2008

The Iraq Troop Numbers Game

An announcement over UK troops numbers in Iraq, expected soon, should be treated with a pinch of salt. The BBC's Nick Robinson, is reporting, quite correctly, that a timetable for withdrawal may be made by the end of the year, with an announcement possibly later this month. 

Such an announcement is nothing new and is widely known in Westminster, Washington, Baghdad and Basra.

After all, the UN mandate for US and UK forces occupying Iraq, runs out at the end of the year and it wouldn't do to have an illegal invasion followed by an illegal occupation. 

News agency, Reuters is on the ground in Baghdad, not embedded with the troops and their political analysis is quite clear. 

"Iraq's national security adviser on Tuesday (yesterday) said Iraq would not accept any security agreement with the United States unless it included dates for the withdrawal of foreign forces."

Bush needs a timetable for withdrawal from Iraq for his legacy and as the presidential election campaign gets into full swing in the autumn.

Last time Brown made an Iraq troop announcement, he did it by suddenly popping up in Iraq during the election-that-never-was. That announcement turned out to be a lot of hot air. 

As noted here on a number of occasions, Brown faces a tough call to do something about troops in Iraq from both the trade unions who he meets later this month for cash and ahead of September's Labour Party conference. 

But there are strong historic and strategic reasons for keeping a UK military base somewhere near the oil supply routes in southern Iraq. 

There'll be an announcement on troop numbers possibly as soon as next week ahead of Glasgow East, but don't expect an announcement of withdrawals from Iraq, just a vague timetable already set by the Pentagon. 

But Iraq is not the real problem anymore. The real problem is in Afghanistan where escalating troop numbers are turning that into the new Vietnam.

If Brown announced a clear pull-out of UK forces in Iraq, he could be home and dry with the Labour Party, probably the country and could even weather the political storm ahead. But that would take a bold, decisive politician. 

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