Published on Sunday, July 10, 2005 by the Sunday Mail/UK
Secret Plan To Quit Iraq
by Simon Walters
Britain And America are secretly preparing to withdraw most of their troops from Iraq - despite warnings of the grave consequences for the region, The Mail on Sunday has learned.
A secret paper written by Defence Secretary John Reid for Tony Blair reveals that many of the 8,500 British troops in Iraq are set to be brought home within three months, with most of the rest returning six months later.
The leaked document, marked Secret: UK Eyes Only, appears to fly in the face of Mr Blair and President Bush's pledges that Allied forces will not quit until Iraq's own forces are strong enough to take control of security.
If British troops pull out, other members of the Alliance are likely to follow. The memo says other international forces in Southern Iraq currently under British control will have to be handled carefully if Britain withdraws. It says they will not feel safe and may also leave.
Embarrassingly, the document says the Americans are split over the plan - and it suggests one of the reasons for getting British troops out is to save money. Mr Reid says cutting UK troop numbers to 3,000 by the middle of next year will save £500 million a year, though it will be 18 months before the cash comes through.
The document, Options For Future UK Force Posture In Iraq, is the first conclusive proof that preparations for a major withdrawal from Iraq are well advanced.
The British Government's public position is that UK troops will stay until newly trained Iraqi forces are ready to take control of security. Less than a fortnight ago, Mr Blair said it was "vital" the US-led coalition stayed until Iraq stabilised, and Mr Bush endorsed his comments.
Mr Reid's memo, prepared for Mr Blair in the past few weeks, shows that in reality, plans to get them out - "military drawdown," as he puts it - are well advanced.
It says: "We have a commitment to hand over to Iraqi control in Al Muthanna and Maysan provinces [two of the four provinces under British control in Southern Iraq] in October 2005 and in the other two, Dhi Qar and Basra, in April 2006.
"This in turn should lead to a reduction in the total level of UK commitment in Iraq to around 3,000 personnel by mid 2006.
"This should lead to an estimated halving in the costs of around £1 billion per annum. Though it is not exactly clear when this reduction might manifest itself, it would not be before around the end of 2006."
Mr Reid states that his proposal is not yet a "ministerially endorsed position" - or Government policy - though he clearly believes it should be.
Significantly, he underlines the serious impact on other Allied troops in the area now under British control, including 550 Japanese engineers rebuilding the infrastructure and 1,400 Australian soldiers: "The Japanese will be reluctant to stay if protection is solely provided by the Iraqis. The Australian position may also be uncertain."
Mr Reid says he will produce "further and more specific proposals" for the Cabinet's Defence and Overseas Policy (Iraq) Committee, which is chaired by Mr Blair.
But some British Army chiefs are opposed to Mr Reid's plans. One senior officer claimed the Minister had no option but to recall 3,000 British troops in October as Britain has already promised to send an extra 3,000 personnel to southern Afghanistan to replace US soldiers.
"The momentum for this is more to do with pressure from America and the woefully overstretched British Army than whether Iraq is ready to look after itself," said the source. "The timing seems very convenient.
British wait for American lead
"The view of most of our military people in Iraq is that we must not leave until the Iraqis are ready to cope, and it is by no reckoning certain that they are."
The memo leaves little doubt that the British plan to take their lead from the White House, where an increasingly unpopular Mr Bush is under huge pressure from the US public to bring American troops home fast.
The paper says it "sets out what we know of US planning and possible expectations on the UK contribution, and the impact on UK decision making".
It says Mr Bush's allies in the Pentagon and Centcom, or Central Command, are at odds with Army chiefs in Iraq, who fear it is too soon to withdraw in such large numbers.
The document states: "There is a strong US military desire for significant force reductions.
"Emerging US plans assume 14 out of 18 provinces could be handed over to Iraqi control by early 2006, allowing a reduction in [Allied troops] from 176,000 down to 66,000. There is, however, a debate between the Pentagon/Centcom, who favour a relatively bold reduction in force numbers, and the multinational force in Iraq, whose approach is more cautious."
A Downing Street source said: "We have always said we will scale down our presence in Iraq when the Iraqis are capable of providing security. But we will not do it before then."
The Ministry of Defence last night confirmed the leaked document was genuine. Mr Reid said: "This is but one of a number of papers produced over recent months covering various scenarios. We have made it plain we will stay in Iraq for as long as is needed. No decisions on the future of UK forces have been taken.
"But we have always said it is our intention to hand over the lead in fighting terrorists to Iraqi security forces as their capability increases. We therefore continually produce papers outlining possible options. This is prudent planning."
According to a BPIX survey for The Mail on Sunday, 52 per cent of Britons think UK troops should return home only when Iraq is a peaceful democracy, which could take years. Eighteen per cent said our soldiers should return immediately and 23 per cent said they should withdraw in six months.
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Memo in Full
Options for future UK force posture in Iraq
Paper by Secretary of State SECRET - UK EYES ONLY
We will need to reach decisions later this year on likely future UK force structure and disposition in Iraq into 2006.
This paper sets out some of the key contextual considerations; identifies areas of uncertainty; sets out what we know of US planning and possible expectations on the UK contribution; and assesses the potential impact on UK decision making.
Decisions on coalition, and within that, UK force levels will be governed by four factors, all of which are subject to a greater or lesser degree of uncertainty:
3. None of this, however, undermines the Multinational Force Iraq (MNF-I) (Mail on Sunday footnote 2)broad security strategy of:
4. US POSITION
US political military thinking is still evolving. But there is a strong US military desire for significant force reductions to bring relief to overall US commitment levels.
Emerging US plans assume that 14 out of 18 provinces could be handed over to Iraqi control by early 2006, allowing a reduction in overall MNF-I from 176,000 down to 66,000.
There is, however, a debate between the Pentagon/Centcom (Mail on Sunday footnote 3) who favour a relatively bold reduction in force numbers, and MNF-I whose approach is more cautious.
The next MNF-I review of campaign progress due in late June may help clarify thinking and provide an agreed framework for the way ahead.
5. (Technical details)
6. UK POLICY CONSIDERATIONS
The current ministerially endorsed policy position is that the UK should not:
7. Looking further ahead, we have a clear UK military aspiration to hand over to Iraqi control in Al Muthanna and Maysan provinces (Mail on Sunday footnote 5) in October 2005 and in the other two Multinational Division South East provinces, Dhi Qar and Basra (Mail on Sunday footnote 6) in April 2006.
This in turn should lead to a reduction in the total level of UK commitment in Iraq to around 3,000 personnel, ie small scale, by mid 2006.
This should lead to an estimated halving in the costs which fall to the reserve, (Mail on Sunday footnote 7) around £1 billion per annum currently. Though it is not clear exactly when this reduction might manifest itself, it would not be before around the end of 2006.
8. None of this however, represents a ministerially endorsed plan. There is a good deal more military analysis to do which is under way. We will need to consider handling of other MND SE allies.
The Japanese reconstruction battalion (Mail on Sunday footnote 8)will for example be reluctant to stay in Al Muthanna if force protection is solely provided by the Iraqis. The Australian position, which is highly influenced by the Japanese presence, may also be uncertain. (Mail on Sunday footnote 9)
I will bring further and more specific proposals to DOP-I (Mail on Sunday footnote 10) for the future UK force posture in Iraq, including handover to Iraqi control and subsequent UK military drawdown.
Mail on Sunday footnotes
Footnote 1:(UN resolution authorising allied troops presence in Iraq)
© 2005 Associated Newspapers Ltd