Tuesday, April 1, 2008

U.K. Shelves Plan to Cut Force in Iraq After Fighting

April 1 (Bloomberg) -- Prime Minister Gordon Brown shelved a plan to withdraw more British soldiers from Iraq after violence flared in Basra, where the U.K. has responsibility for security.

The U.K. will maintain a contingent of about 4,000 troops at the airbase outside the southern Iraqi city instead of reducing it to 2,500, as announced in October, Defense Secretary Des Browne said today in Parliament.

The withdrawal was derailed last week when Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki sent his army into Basra to crack down on Shiite militias, killing hundreds of people. That forced U.S. and British forces to provide air and artillery support.

``The conditions have changed and the military advice has changed,'' Browne said. ``It is prudent that we pause any further reductions.''

By backing away from the pullout, Brown is bowing to criticism made when his plans were announced Oct. 8. At the time, opposition lawmakers questioned the utility of keeping such a small British contingent in Iraq after sending 46,000 soldiers there at the time of the invasion five years ago.

Today the opposition Conservative Party accused the Labour government of seeking political gain by announcing the withdrawal last year.

``The government has been caught too often on the overoptimistic end of the spectrum,'' Conservative defense spokesman Liam Fox said. ``I hope that the government has now learned not to play party politics with projected numbers.''

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