- The Washington Times - Friday, October 13, 2006

LONDON — Britain’s army chief, who set off a political storm by calling for troops to be withdrawn “soon” from Iraq, said yesterday that he meant a phased withdrawal over two or three years.

Gen. Richard Dannatt, who also denied that he was attacking government policy, gave a series of interviews after newspapers ran front-page stories interpreting his remarks published Thursday by the Daily Mail as a critique of Prime Minister Tony Blair’s policy.

Gen. Dannatt said in the initial interview that the British military should “get ourselves out sometime soon because our presence exacerbates the security problems.”

Yesterday, he insisted that Britain stood “shoulder to shoulder with the Americans, and their timing and our timing are one and the same.”

“We’ll probably reduce our soldiers over the course of the next year or two or three — let’s wait and see. That’s what I mean by sometime soon,” Gen. Dannatt told Sky News.

“We don’t do surrender. We don’t pull down white flags. We’re going to see this through,” Gen. Dannatt told British Broadcasting Corp. radio.

Britain has not set a timetable for the departure of its 7,500 troops from Iraq, but it has handed over security responsibilities in two provinces to Iraqi forces and is preparing to do the same in a third.

In Baghdad, a government spokesman expressed confidence that British troops would be staying for the near future.

The British government has “confirmed its support to the Iraqi government,” spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh told the Associated Press. “The presence of these forces is necessary so that they can participate in establishing stability in Iraq.”

Mr. al-Dabbagh said that for now, foreign troops are welcomed in Iraq.

“The Iraqi government does not wish to keep the foreign forces forever, but these forces are staying for the time being, under a request by the Iraqi government and according to the international resolutions,” he said.

Gen. Dannatt said his criticism of postwar planning in Iraq as “poor” and his concerns about troops being stretched by deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan had been voiced by others. Retired senior officers have raised those concerns, but they bore more weight coming from a serving officer at Gen. Dannatt’s level.

The Daily Mail, which posted Gen. Dannatt’s remarks on its Web site Thursday night, quoted the general as saying that although Iraqis might have welcomed coalition forces after the ouster of Saddam Hussein, the good will has evaporated.

“Our presence exacerbates the security problems,” the Daily Mail quoted Gen. Dannatt as saying. “Whatever consent we may have had in the first place … has largely turned to intolerance.”

Mr. Blair’s spokesman told reporters in Scotland, where Mr. Blair is involved in Northern Ireland talks, that the general had the prime minister’s full support.

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