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Brown accused of "cynical" politics in announcing Iraq cutback

IRNA - Islamic Republic News Agency

London, Oct 2, IRNA
UK-Iraq Withdrawal
Prime Minister Gordon Brown Tuesday was accused of playing "cynical" politics and using British soldiers as a "political football" after he announced that 1,000 troops would be home from Iraq by Christmas during a surprise visit to Iraq.

The opposition Conservatives criticized the timing of Brown's announcement coming amid of their annual party conference in Blackpool, north west England, and growing speculation that the prime minister could call an early general election next week.

At Labour's conference a week ago, Gordon Brown "gave only around a minute of his 67 minute speech to the issues of Iraq, Afghanistan and our Armed Forces combined," shadow defence secretary Liam Fox said.

"But today he is happy to use our Armed Forces for a pre-election photo opportunity," said Fox.

"Most people will see this cynicism for what it is."

The prime minister announced plans effectively for a further reduction of 500 troops in addition to 500 already announced that would reduce total numbers in Iraq to around 4,500 by the end of the year.

But the cutback camouflaged reports that UK mission in Iraq will continue for at least another two years and will not completely wind down until American troops leave.

According to the Daily Telegraph, plans after a further reduction by next April will keep a force of around 3,000 at Basra air station, five miles outside the city, to continue training Iraqi forces and securing supply routes.

The first stage of withdrawal, called "tactical overwatch", will mean soldiers withdrawing from patrols and allowing Iraqi officers and troops to conduct operations, the paper said.

The next phase "operational overwatch" includes British forces being held as a "beyond the horizon reserve", possibly in Iraqi bases and then either in Kuwait or Cyprus, to be used only if things escalate beyond the Iraqi army's control.

It said the third and final phase would be total withdrawal, possibly within two years, in which a battle-group will be on standby in Britain ready to deploy to Iraq within days and that a small number of soldiers will be left behind in an advisory role.

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