During Prime Minister Blair’s visit, the new Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said that Iraqi forces could take over security for most of the country by the end of the year:
BAGHDAD (Reuters) – British officials said they expected all foreign combat troops to withdraw from Iraq within four years, as Prime Minister Tony Blair flew into Baghdad to show support to its new government on Monday.
It was the firmest statement yet from one of the two main allies in the 2003 invasion to topple Saddam Hussein on a date for pulling out troops from Iraq. Washington has said it is too soon to discuss such a timetable.
Iraq’s new prime minister, speaking at a joint press conference with Blair, said he believed Iraqi forces could take over security in most of the country by the end of this year.
“There’s an agreement and, according to this schedule for handing over security, Samawa and Amara provinces will be handed over to Iraqis in June and by the end of this year this operation will be completed except for Baghdad and maybe Anbar,” Nuri al-Maliki said.
Blair, after meeting Maliki in Baghdad’s heavily fortified Green Zone, declined to be drawn on a timetable for withdrawal but stressed that foreign troops would pull out as fast as Iraqi forces were able to take over.
Tony Blair has taken a huge hit on his approval rating because of his support of the Iraq effort. When his numbers started taking a dive, it would have been very easy for him to have pulled a Murtha by declaring Iraq a failure and pulling out the British troops in an effort to save his political career. Instead, he stood his ground.
In fact, Lorie Byrd reports that Tony Blair is going to vigorously defend his position on Iraq when he visits President Bush later this week.