Gordon Brown has announced in Baghdad that all British troops will be withdrawn from Iraq by July 2009 as the forces ‘will have completed their tasks in the first half of 2009.’ Leaving aside the merits of the decision, he should have made this announcement to Parliament and properly thanked those who have lost their lives and been injured during the conflict but grandstanding on the international stage is what Brown is currently obsessed with and this announcement fits well into that obsession.
This announcement hasn’t come as a complete surprise. There was a great deal of uncertainty as to the exact role of UK troops in Basra and their effectiveness in maintaining law and order, and whether the Iraqi army has been trained sufficiently well to be able to control Basra. We’ll know for certain when they leave and how much control the Iraqi Government is able to exercise against the Shia militia in southern Iraq.
The timing of the withdrawal raises many questions and in particular whether this will lead to an increase in UK troops in Afghanistan or whether this is playing to a domestic audience in preparation of a 2009 general election. As with everything Gordon Brown announces, this isn’t as straightforward as it seems.