British Prime Minister Tony Blair said Tuesday that British forces will stay in Iraq until, ?the job is done.? In his monthly news conference, Mr. Blair said he hoped that he could be more specific in the coming weeks after political power is transferred to the interim Iraqi government at the end of June.
Mr. Blair says British troops will only remain in Iraq with the consent of the Iraqis but, he said, the training of Iraqi security recruits and the increase in their numbers will have a large bearing on when the British soldiers can head home.
?At the moment, the Iraqi security forces cannot do this work of security themselves, so they need our support,? he said. ?But the idea is then to engage in a transition where as the Iraqi capability builds up, so our capability reduces.?
Mr. Blair spoke following a meeting in London Tuesday with Iraq's Defense Minister Ali Alawi who told reporters he thought Iraq would be able to handle security on its own sooner rather than later.
?I think it will be a question of months, rather than years,? Mr. Alawi added. ?It would be very unusual I believe that we will not be able to install security in the country within the next year.?
Mr. Blair said that he believes there is no contradiction in his assessment and that of the Iraqi minister.
?I think the Iraqi deputy Foreign Minister was saying yesterday, 'well, it might be years,'? Mr. Blair added. ?The Iraqi Defense Minister says, 'it might be months.' But actually if you read carefully what they are both saying, they are both saying, the issue is how fast can you get a proper, indigenous Iraqi security service up and running. That is what governs the timetable."
Some 7,500 British forces are currently stationed in Iraq, but troop strength levels are under constant review and British officials repeatedly say that that number could be going up. Few in Britain expect any movement on that until after local and European elections take place on June the 10.
A new opinion poll published Tuesday in Britain's Guardian newspaper shows that two-thirds of those questioned would be against sending any additional British forces to Iraq.