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Britain's Blair hold talks with deputy Iraqi PM over prospect of coalition troop drawdown

Britain's Blair hold talks with deputy Iraqi PM over prospect of coalition troop drawdown

British Prime Minister Tony Blair was expected to use talks Monday with Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Barham Saleh to press for a firm timetable for local forces to take full control of the country's increasingly volatile southern provinces.
Discussions at Blair's Downing Street office come after defense officials and a senior British minister claimed the Iraqi police and army could be given complete authority over the southern region within 12 months.
Blair's office denied that he would press Saleh to draw up an exit timetable for British troops, but acknowledged the talks were focussed on ensuring the process of handing over control of provinces continues "as quickly as possible."
"There is a process of transition and hand over going on. Obviously we want this process to go as quickly as possible, but we will stay until the job is done," said a Downing Street spokesman, on customary condition of anonymity.
He said it would be "wrong to suggest that the Prime Minister is going to press him (Saleh) on an exit strategy."
British defense officials have repeatedly insisted they hope to hand over all security responsibilities in southern Iraq in 2007, cutting the number of troops based in the country from around 7,000 to between 3,000 and 4,000.
Foreign Office minister Kim Howells said Sunday he believed that within a year there would "be adequately trained Iraqi soldiers and security forces" to take over duties from British and coalition troops.
"I would be very surprised if there was not that kind of capacity taking on a lot of the work done by the coalition forces," he told the British Broadcasting Corp.
Defense Secretary Des Browne said Sunday that he believed the coalition in southern Iraq was "quite far down the process of transferring responsibility to the Iraqis."


Updated : 2021-10-19 06:26 GMT+08:00