Tony Blair then:
Tony Blair now:
Tony Blair is expected to announce a timetable for the withdrawal of UK troops from Iraq.
The prime minister is due to make an announcement in the House of Commons on Wednesday in which he is expected clarify the details.
Mr Blair is expected to say hundreds of troops will return from Basra within weeks with more to follow later.
Some 7,000 UK troops are currently serving in Iraq and about 1,500 are expected to return within weeks.
BBC political correspondent James Landale said: “We have been expecting an announcement for some time on this.”
Our correspondent said senior Whitehall sources told him that the pullout was “slightly slower” than they had expected and “if conditions worsen this process could still slow up”.
Is the UK PM really pulling a McCain? Perhaps not. Methinks the key weasel word in Blair’s HOC bloviating (from way back in the halcyon days of, er, January ’07) is ‘arbitrary’. As noted by the BBC, any pullout will still be conditional, the pace to be determined based upon improvement of events on the ground.
In other words, not bloody likely to occur any time soon, unless Tony is planning a hasty legacy-salvaging ‘mission accomplished’ declaration prior to retirement (What – we painted some schools. What more do you want?)
Still, qua Wonkette, I won’t be surprised come Wednesday to see Freedom Muffins on sale in the Congressional Cafeteria (or some greasy spoon in South Carolina, at least).
update: More from the Guardian:
Ministers have taken on board the message coming from military chiefs over many months – namely that the presence of British troops on the streets of Basra is increasingly unnecessary, even provocative. The reduction of just 1,000 by early summer cited by officials yesterday is significantly less than anticipated in reports that British troops in southern Iraq, presently totalling 7,200, would be cut by half by May.
A more cautious reduction may reflect concern expressed by the Iraqi and US governments about British intentions. The US has privately admonished Britain claiming it is interested only in Basra. British ministers and officials say the situation in the Shia-dominated south cannot be compared to Baghdad, which is plagued by Sunni-Shia sectarian violence.
Under the plan due to be outlined by Mr Blair, British troops will gradually move into a single base on the outskirts of Basra. They will continue to take part in operations but in a role supporting Iraqi security forces rather than leading them, according to defence officials.
They will also continue operating long range desert patrols in Maysan province, north of Basra, along the border with Iran – a mission pressed on Britain by the US which says it is concerned about the smuggling of weapons from Iran. By the end of next year, all but a few army instructors will have left the country.
Kevin Drum voices skepticism at the ‘pullout’ framing:
If the Guardian is right, the real story here isn’t that Britain is withdrawing from Iraq, but that they’re actually planning to stay longer than previously planned. That seems like a pretty important qualifier.