- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Democrats yesterday cheered the news that Britain will begin withdrawing troops from Iraq as proof that the rest of the word sees reducing troops as the best solution to the war, but the White House defended the action as a sign of how well things are going.

“The British government has acknowledged a reality that President Bush still stubbornly refuses to accept,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair announced he will bring home 1,600 of Britain’s 7,100 troops now serving in Iraq in the next few months. Meanwhile, Denmark announced plans to withdraw its troops, which number in the hundreds, this summer. Lithuania also is considering withdrawing its contingent of dozens of troops.

Acknowledging that Basra, where British forces are stationed, is not “how we want it to be,” Mr. Blair said the time is ripe to let the Iraqis take over security.

The move is bound to get wrapped up in the debate in Congress.

Last week, the House passed a nonbinding resolution opposing Mr. Bush’s plan to send 4,000 more Marines to Anbar province to pursue al Qaeda terrorists, and about 17,500 soldiers to Baghdad to try to end sectarian violence. Republicans have blocked a similar resolution in the Senate.

Democrats argued that Mr. Blair’s decision proved the major U.S. partner in Iraq has come to the conclusion that the way to prod Iraq is with fewer troops, not more.

“America’s leading ally in Iraq has decided that a timetable for the phased redeployment of troops is the only responsible policy to help force Iraqis to stand up for Iraq,” said Sen. John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat. “After years of touting Prime Minister Blair’s resolve, the administration should now pay attention to his new policy.”

Although Mr. Blair said his troops are leaving without having accomplished what they had hoped, the White House said it was a good sign.

“What I see is an affirmation of the fact that there are parts of Iraq where things are going pretty well,” Vice President Dick Cheney, traveling in Japan, told ABC News.

Mr. Cheney said a friend, “a guy who knows the region very well,” recently drove from Baghdad to Basra and “found the situation dramatically improved compared with where it was a year or so ago, sort of validated the British view that they have made progress in southern Iraq, and that they can therefore afford to reduce their force posture.”

White House spokesman Tony Snow said the British are basing their decision on benchmarks, not timetables.

He ruled out asking British troops to transfer to Baghdad or Anbar province to help ease the burden on U.S. troops.

“There has been a division of labor within Iraq and people do have separate responsibilities,” he said.

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