Almost two thirds of the 8,500 British troops in Iraq will have been pulled out by the end of next year, under plans drawn up in Whitehall to hand over two provinces to Iraqi control.I've been trying to wrap my mind around how it feels to now have family in danger in both Iraq and London. But lets be honest with one another...we knew full-well that Britain's involvement in Iraq increased the chances of an attack on London. So it's hardly a surprise. I'm just very thankful my sister and all my loved ones in London were not physically hurt. Anyway, it's been about as slippery a feeling as any I've had in recent years. I want the people who planned and staged the attacks in London behind bars as much as I want the people responsible for Abu Ghraib and the entire illegal Iraq war behind bars. Besides the now added complexities of having a sister who was extremely lucky, here are a few things that are clear to me. The Iraq war has made everybody less safe. And, still to many, it seems an Iraqi's life is not worth as much as a Brit's or American's life. With this leaked memo we have the first signs of a possible timeline for a draw-down of troops. The Brits could force the American hand by turning over the provinces currently under their control to Iraqis. I suggest the British government go through with this plan of a draw-down while insisting (even privately) for Bush Co. to issue a timetable of withdrawal. We need a light at the end of the tunnel. And we need it now.
The plan set out in a leaked memo written by the Defence Secretary John Reid, hints that the Government is keen to cut the heavy cost of patrolling southern Iraq.
The memo calculates that the current cost of the British presence in Iraq, around £1bn a year, could be halved if the number of troops were reduced to 3,000 during 2006. The memo implies that the British would formally hand over control to the Iraqis of the four provinces currently under British control by April 2006, but that it take another eight months before what the memo calls the "UK military drawdown" has been completed - and 18 months before the money comes through.
Revealingly, it hints at tension between the Pentagon and US Central Command, which want a rapid troop reduction, and commanders on the ground in Iraq.
The memo also warns that Japan may insist on pulling out the 550 Japanese engineers if they left with the only the Iraq army to protect them from insurgents. There will be a question mark, too, over the 1,400 Australian soldiers in Iraq.
The memo, entitled Options for future UK force posture in Iraq and headed "Secret - UK eyes only", was leaked to The Mail on Sunday, apparently by someone connected with the Defence department who suspected that Britain was preparing to get out quick as an economy measure, leaving the Iraqis to fend for themselves.
The defence department said it that various options were being considered for reducing the British presence in Iraq, and stressed that nothing has been finally decided.
The memo, sent to Tony Blair, said that the US government is also trying to scale down its military commitment to Iraq. "Emerging US plans assume 14 out of 18 provinces could be handed over to Iraqi control by early 2006, allowing a reduction from 176,000 (allied troops) down to 66,000.
Memo in Full
Options for future UK force posture in Iraq
Paper by Secretary of State SECRET - UK EYES ONLY
We will need to reach decisions later this year on likely future UK force structure and disposition in Iraq into 2006.
This paper sets out some of the key contextual considerations; identifies areas of uncertainty; sets out what we know of US planning and possible expectations on the UK contribution; and assesses the potential impact on UK decision making.
2. Decisions on coalition, and within that, UK force levels will be governed by four factors, all of which are subject to a greater or lesser degree of uncertainty:
* Internal Iraqi pressure for further force posture changes.
* Successful progress in the potential process and extension/renewal of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1546. (Mail on Sunday footnote 1)
* The continued development of the capability of the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF).
* The security situation.
3. None of this, however, undermines the Multinational Force Iraq (MNF-I) (Mail on Sunday footnote 2)broad security strategy of:
a) Working with the Iraqis to contain and restrain the insurgency.
b) Assisting and encouraging the development of Iraqi security forces and structures which can progressively assume responsibility for all aspects of security including dealing with the insurgency, and thereby:
c) Enable MNF-I force reductions and eventual withdrawal.
4. US POSITION
US political military thinking is still evolving. But there is a strong US military desire for significant force reductions to bring relief to overall US commitment levels.
Emerging US plans assume that 14 out of 18 provinces could be handed over to Iraqi control by early 2006, allowing a reduction in overall MNF-I from 176,000 down to 66,000.
There is, however, a debate between the Pentagon/Centcom (Mail on Sunday footnote 3) who favour a relatively bold reduction in force numbers, and MNF-I whose approach is more cautious.
The next MNF-I review of campaign progress due in late June may help clarify thinking and provide an agreed framework for the way ahead.
5. (Technical details)
6. UK POLICY CONSIDERATIONS
The current ministerially endorsed policy position is that the UK should not:
a) Agree to any changes to the UK area of responsibility.
b) Agree to any specific deployments outside Multinational Division South East. (Mail on Sunday footnote 4)
c) Agree to any specific increases in the roughly 8,500 UK service personnel currently deployed in Iraq.
7. Looking further ahead, we have a clear UK military aspiration to hand over to Iraqi control in Al Muthanna and Maysan provinces (Mail on Sunday footnote 5) in October 2005 and in the other two Multinational Division South East provinces, Dhi Qar and Basra (Mail on Sunday footnote 6) in April 2006.
This in turn should lead to a reduction in the total level of UK commitment in Iraq to around 3,000 personnel, ie small scale, by mid 2006.
This should lead to an estimated halving in the costs which fall to the reserve, (Mail on Sunday footnote 7) around £1 billion per annum currently. Though it is not clear exactly when this reduction might manifest itself, it would not be before around the end of 2006.
8. None of this however, represents a ministerially endorsed plan. There is a good deal more military analysis to do which is under way. We will need to consider handling of other MND SE allies.
The Japanese reconstruction battalion (Mail on Sunday footnote 8)will for example be reluctant to stay in Al Muthanna if force protection is solely provided by the Iraqis. The Australian position, which is highly influenced by the Japanese presence, may also be uncertain. (Mail on Sunday footnote 9)
I will bring further and more specific proposals to DOP-I (Mail on Sunday footnote 10) for the future UK force posture in Iraq, including handover to Iraqi control and subsequent UK military drawdown.
Mail on Sunday footnotes
Footnote 1:(UN resolution authorising allied troops presence in Iraq)
Footnote 2: (The Multinational Force of Allied troops in Iraq)
Footnote 3: (Centcom is the US military command centre in the US)
Footnote 4: (Not get involved in operations outside area around Basra under UK control)
Footnote 5: (two of the four provinces around Basra in UK control)
Footnote 6: (the other two UK run provinces)
Footnote 7: (The UK Treasury Reserve)
Footnote 8: (Japan has 550 engineers in UK area of Iraq)
Footnote 9: (Australia has 1,400 troops in Iraq ,whose main job is to protect the Japanese)
Footnote 10: (The Defence and Overseas Policy, Iraq sub committee of the Cabinet chaired by the Prime Minister)
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