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Troops Will Stay in Iraq for 'Years,' says British FM - 2004-01-05

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw says British troops will remain in Iraq for years after a planned transfer of power to Iraqis.

Interviewed on British radio, Jack Straw says that even after the targeted hand over of power to Iraqi authorities on July 1, much work will remain for the British troops.

More than 10,000 British soldiers are in Iraq. They are based in and around Iraq's second largest city of Basra in the south.

Mr. Straw said he could not give a definite timetable as to when all of the coalition forces might depart but added it would take years.

"I cannot say whether it is going to be 2006/2007, but I just want to go back to the parallel with Afghanistan," he said. "There are still some thousands of foreign troops in Afghanistan, getting on for two and a half years since September 11.

"Those troops have played a very important role in providing a degree of stability and security, which has then enabled the political process to take place," continued Mr. Straw. "And that is exactly the kind of situation we want to see replicated in Iraq."

The Foreign Secretary said the Afghan model was extremely important where foreign forces have two principal roles, fighting terrorism and bringing general stability.

And he warned that a hasty withdrawal of British troops from Iraq would have negative consequences.

"If we were suddenly to pull out, there would unquestionably be a security vacuum and that would not only put lives at risk, and of course a loss of life but it would also be a set back for the political process," said Mr. Straw.

Sunday, Prime Minister Tony Blair paid a surprise visit to British troops in southern Iraq. He also met with local Iraqi leaders in Basra.

Mr. Blair called the British effort in Iraq a noble cause, and told the troops they were taking part in a test case in the fight against terrorism.