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US Commander Presents Plan for Drawdown in Iraq


One week after proposing a modest drawdown of troops, the top U.S. commander in Iraq outlined his proposal to America's closest ally. General David Petreaus is in London a week after his highly anticipated congressional testimony. He says that the addition of more than 30,000 soldiers has helped limit the violence in Iraq. Catherine Drew reports for VOA on the reaction of the British public.

General David Petreaus and U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker presented their plan for the war to the British government and a skeptical public. The agenda included a private meeting at 10 Downing Street.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has said, while he will not abandon Iraq, his country's future there will be decided by developments on the ground.

With British soldiers facing fierce fighting in Afghanistan, there is speculation in the British media that the prime minister might want to reduce troop numbers in Iraq.

Analyst Alex Bigham of the London-based Foreign Policy Centre says he expects the question of the size of the British force is a concern. "I don't think the British are going to pull out immediately or set a fixed timetable for withdrawal -- partly because the Americans feel they might have to back-fill with troops of their own and partly of course because it would add to the political clamor that's going on in Washington, which says, if the British are prepared to withdraw, why don't we withdraw American troops?"

Early in September, the last British troops based at Basra Palace moved to the airport -- where all 5500 soldiers in Iraq now concentrate on training the Iraqi army.

Opinion polls in Britain show a steady decrease in support since the 2003 invasion. The British polling company, YouGov, found fewer than one-third of respondents say Britain was right to go to war.

Some Londoners say Britain should plot a course independent of the U.S. One person remarked, "We need to make our own decisions about when our troops come home and we need to get on with the job and them out of there as soon as possible."

Another person said, "Clearly an American general will have a particular slant and we have to try to get at the truth to find out whether he's justified in taking that slant or not." A third person said, "Well, I haven't really been following the situation but I don't think we should have gone there in the first place in all honesty."

Political analysts say Prime Minister Brown will not risk hurting his country's relationship with the U.S over any disagreements over Iraq.

Alex Bigham, from the Foreign Policy Centre, says, "It's not a relationship that Gordon Brown wants to undermine in the round. But clearly there are different situations on the ground in Iraq and that reflects a different strategy. But in the long term you may see the Americans moving towards the kind of strategy that Britain is pursuing after the surge."

Mr. Brown is due to outline his Iraq strategy to Parliament when the House of Commons returns from recess next month.

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