All British troops will be out of Iraq by the end of next year, Iraq’s national security advisor said on Friday, days before Baghdad was expected to vote on a controversial US military pact.
“By the end of next year there will be no British troops in Iraq. By the end of 2009,” Muwafaq al-Rubaie said, adding that negotiations between London and Baghdad on the pull-out had begun two weeks ago.
A defence ministry spokesman in London said in response that Britain has “no timetable” for the withdrawal of its roughly 4,000 troops in Iraq, the vast majority of which are based in the southern Iraqi city of Basra.
“At the minute, we have no timetable,” the spokesman told AFP.
“We are hopefully making progress, we have made progress in Basra, and we are on course to meet the prime minister’s fundamental change of mission in 2009,” the spokesman said, reiterating previously-stated plans.
Baghdad has been racing to secure separate agreements with both Britain and the United States to replace the UN mandate currently governing the presence of foreign troops in the country, which expires December 31.
Iraq’s cabinet was expected to vote on the so-called Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), a wide-ranging US military pact, either Saturday or Sunday. The two sides have been wrangling over the document for months.
Rubaie insisted however that the agreement Iraq sought with the British was simpler and would not take as much time to complete.
“It will be a much shorter agreement with the UK,” Rubaie said. “And it progresses quite nicely. It’s much shorter and much simpler.”
He added that by the middle of next year there would be a “dramatic” reduction of British troops.