Britain 'will pull troops out of Iraq without US approval'
Britain's pull-out from Iraq will go ahead regardless of what happens to American troops in Baghdad, Foreign Secretary David Miliband said today.
Mr Miliband refused to put a date on the final exit of British troops, but he made clear that the Government's priority was to return security to the Iraqi army and police.
He hit back at suggestions by some American generals that a UK withdrawal from Basra would cause problems for US troops farther north.
Mr Miliband's remarks came as Gordon Brown gave a warning against setting a timetable for the pull-out in advance.
President Bush is expected to approve a further surge of American troops this year amid claims that an early pull-out would lead to more bloodshed and civil war.
George Bush is to give a speech later today in which he will discuss the implications of the fight in Iraq for the broader Middle East.
He will describe it as 'a global crossroads' that has largely missed the democratic and economic advances seen in other parts of the world and is thus vulnerable to the rise of terrorism, according to a senior White House official.
The speech is to set the stage for the forthcoming Petraeus report which will look at whether the additional U.S. forces that Bush ordered to Iraq in January are improving security enough to create an environment for lasting political progress.
But, in a new signal of a change of tone since the departure of Tony Blair, Mr Miliband told BBC Radio 4's Today programme military decisions would be taken independently of whatever President Bush decided. "We will always take British decisions in the British national interest.
"Our decisions about Basra are about the situation on the ground in Basra, not the situation on the ground in Baghdad," he said.
Brown refused to set a timetable for the withdrawal of British troops
Mr Miliband pointed out that despite rising violence in Basra, it was largely divisions within the Shia community that led to problems rather than civil war between Shia and Sunnis.
Downing Street today made clear that the Prime Minister shared Mr Miliband's assessment. "We will have to take decisions based on the ground and clearly the situation in Basra is different from the situation in other parts of Iraq."
Meanwhile, the chances of a snap autumn general election receded today after the Prime Minister declared that he would not "cut and run" from Iraq. He dismissed calls to set a timetable for the troop withdrawal, pointing out that he had "clear obligations to discharge" to the
people of Iraq. With Labour strategists banking on a pull-out to draw a clear line under the Blair era, Mr Brown's warning appeared to put paid to calls for an election in October or November.
The shrinking size of the "Brown bounce" in the polls has also cooled the party's appetite to go to the country early, according to insiders.
British troops are expected to be pulling out of Basra in large numbers by early next year, giving Labour the chance to claim the issue is dealt with.
Prime Minister Gordon Brown has sworn Britain will not cut and run in Iraq
In a rare move, Downing Street published a letter from Mr Brown to Liberal Democrat leader Sir Menzies Campbell setting out his position on Iraq. The Lib-Dems have called for a detailed exit timetable, a call echoed by French President Nicolas Sarkozy yesterday.
But Mr Brown said it was wrong to say the continued presence of more than 5,000 troops in Iraq would "achieve little". "Decisions on UK force levels and posture in Iraq are dictated by conditions on the ground," Mr Brown added.
Earlier Gordon Brown had dismissed calls to set out a timetable for the withdrawal of British troops from Iraq, insisting he would not "cut and run" from the country.
The Prime Minister said Britain had "clear obligations to discharge" and rejected claims that the continued presence of British forces in Iraq was becoming increasingly counterproductive.
Mr Brown set out his position in a letter to Liberal Democrat leader Sir Menzies Campbell, but his message appeared chiefly aimed at addressing tensions between London and Washington over the way ahead for Iraq.
A decision on total withdrawal is expected to be made by Mr Brown depending on the forthcoming report of U.S. General David Petraeus, who will update President Bush shortly on the security situation in Iraq.
The Prime Minister insisted British forces "continue to have an important job to do" until the Iraqis were ready to "take on full responsibility for the security of their own country".
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Last edited by dannyley; August 28th, 2007 at 11:22 AM.