This is IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair announced this week that 1,600 British
troops will leave Iraq in the coming months.
Britain has more than 7,000 troops in Iraq. The forces to be withdrawn are in
the Basra area in the south. Most of those remaining will be located at Basra
air base. Their tasks will include training and supporting Iraqi forces and
securing the border with Iran.
Mr. Blair said the withdrawal was possible because of the increased readiness
of Iraqi forces to take control. He said he hopes to reduce British troops
levels to below 5,000 later this year. He says British forces will stay in Iraq
into 2008 as long as they are wanted and have a job to do.
Tony Blair has said he will leave office by September after ten years as
prime minister. The Labor Party leader has lost popularity and has decided not
to seek a fourth term.
Britain has been the biggest ally of the United States in Iraq. Britain
deployed 40,000 troops for the invasion in 2003. That number fell to
about 9,000 two years ago.
A spokesman for the National Security Council at the White House had this
reaction to the announcement:
"President Bush sees this as a sign of success and what is possible for us
once we help the Iraqis deal with the sectarian violence in Baghdad."
The British announcement came as the Bush administration is increasing
American troop strength in the Baghdad area. The president recently announced an
increase of more than 20,000 troops in Iraq, raising the number above 150,000.
Baghdad remains the center of violence between Shiite and Sunni Muslims. Mr.
Blair said the situation in the capital cannot be compared to Basra, a Shiite
city where attacks are aimed largely at coalition forces.
In addition to the British, about 460 Danish soldiers under British command
in southern Iraq will be withdrawn by August. And Lithuania says it is
considering withdrawing its 53 troops in southern Iraq.
Britain will remain the second largest foreign military presence in Iraq.
South Korea is third. South Korea has deployed more than two thousand troops in
the Kurdish-controlled north. But it plans to withdraw half of them soon.
Others with hundreds of troops in Iraq include Georgia, Poland, Romania,
Australia and El Salvador. Countries that have already withdrawn include Italy,
Spain, Ukraine, Japan and New Zealand.
Vice President Dick Cheney said this week in Japan that terrorists would see
it as weakness if American troops left Iraq too soon. Sixty-three percent of
Americans in a recent opinion study said they support a withdrawal by two
On Friday, British media reported that Britain is about to announce an
additional one thousand troops for Afghanistan. Taleban forces are expected to
launch a spring offensive.
And that's IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English, written by Brianna Blake. I'm