By Robert Hutton and Reed Landberg
The plan would reduce the size of the
Prime Minister Tony Blair in July said a ``significant'' drawdown of
``We've done a lot of training for the Iraqi army over the past two years and they're up to the job,'' said Louise Heywood, head of the U.K. armed forces program at the Royal United Services Institute, a London-based military researcher. ``They've become a force that's capable of standing up to the insurgents.''
The pace of withdrawal will be governed by the ability of
Blair's popularity has suffered since the invasion, dragging support for the U.K.'s ruling Labour Party to its lowest in 19 years, an ICM Ltd. survey published today showed. Labour had the support of 31 percent of voters, down 4 points from a month ago. Liberal Democrats, who opposed the war, gained 5 points to 22 percent and the Conservative Party had 40 percent.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said in May that he wants his government's own troops to be providing security in all except two of the nation's 18 provinces by the end of the year. The British military handed over control of the Muthanna province to
The U.K. will then consolidate forces to a single base in the city of Basra, in southern Iraq, said one of the officials, a senior military commander speaking on condition of anonymity. The troops will remain to support Iraqi forces, he said.
Once the reduction is complete,
According to a senior defense official, also speaking on condition of anonymity, it will be up to Iraqi authorities to decide when control is handed over.
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