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US Says British Iraq Withdrawal Sign of Success


U.S. officials are describing Britain's announcement that it will withdraw 1,600 of its troops from Iraq as a sign of the type of success in the southern part of the country that they want to see in the Baghdad area. VOA's Al Pessin reports from the Pentagon.

During a domestic trip with President Bush, White House Spokesman Tony Snow said British forces in southern Iraq have made good progress in moving Iraqi troops into leading roles. He said that is the kind of progress President Bush would like to see in the rest of the country.

Snow also said there was no talk about asking Britain to transfer some of its troops to Baghdad to help with the new security plan, which involves sending more than 21,000 additional U.S. troops to Iraq. Snow says there has long been what he called "a division of labor" between British forces leading the coalition in southern Iraq and U.S. forces taking the lead in the rest of the country.

At the Pentagon, Spokesman Bryan Whitman said the withdrawal of 22 percent of Britain's troops from Iraq was coordinated with military commanders in Baghdad. He said it reflects the relatively secure situation in and around Basra, Iraq's main southern city.

"You know Basra is not Baghdad, and in Basra the British have turned over a lot of responsibilities for the region to Iraqi security forces," Whitman said.

Whitman says the British reduction is not related to the increase in U.S. troops in Baghdad, which he says is designed to establish enough security to enable Iraqi forces there to play a larger role as they have in the Basra area.

The Pentagon spokesman also says Britain will still have what he called a "formidable presence" in Iraq, and will continue to train Iraqi troops, help secure the Iraq-Iran border and protect coalition supply lines. He said several times that each member of the coalition makes its own decisions about its troop levels and missions.

"We have always said that every country will determine what its participation in the global war on terror is going to be, and that includes Iraq, and that includes military forces, as well as all the other financial, diplomatic, legal, judicial kinds of things that the 180-plus nations that have come together in a coalition against terrorism have to decide for themselves," he said.

Whitman says the British withdrawal has been planned for some time, and in London, Prime Minister Tony Blair noted that Britain has withdrawn nearly 2,000 troops from Iraq over the last two years.

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