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Iraq Transition

UK reduction inflames debate on Bush troop increase

Story Highlights

NEW: Cheney says Democratic approach would "validate the al Qaeda strategy"
• PM Blair says UK to withdraw 1,600 troops from Iraq in coming months
• White House: UK move shows "progress in Basra"
• Pelosi: Move confirms Americans' doubts about Bush troop increase in Iraq
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The White House said Britain's announcement Wednesday to pull about 1,600 troops out of Iraq was proof of progress, while the top House Democrat said it "confirms doubts" about President Bush's plan to send more U.S. troops there.

White House spokesman Tony Snow said the move by British Prime Minister Tony Blair "indicates that there's been some progress in Basra," in southern Iraq, where UK troops are deployed. The reduction of troops would leave about 5,500 British troops still there.

Blair's decision to send some British troops home, Snow said, is largely because of the training of Iraqi troops and Basra's tranquil security climate compared with Baghdad's. (Watch what the UK reduction means for U.S. forces Video)

He said the situation in Basra is "ultimately the kind of thing we want to see throughout Iraq."

Rep. Nancy Pelosi, speaker of the Democratically controlled House, suggested that Blair's decision "confirms the doubts in the minds of the American people" about Bush's decision to increase U.S. forces in Iraq by more than 21,000.

"Why are thousands of additional American troops being sent to Iraq at the same time that British troops are planning to leave?" the California Democrat said in a written statement.

Bush has said the U.S. troop increase is part of a strategy aimed at quelling insurgent and sectarian violence in and around Baghdad.

Pelosi's counterpart, House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, said the British troop reduction "is one more sign that the new strategy to stabilize Baghdad deserves a chance to succeed."

He accused opponents of conspiring to use the congressional power of the purse to fight the Bush troop increase.

"The American people will not support the Democrats' 'slow-bleed' policy that cuts off funding and reinforcements for our troops in harm's way."

Vice President Dick Cheney also offered criticism of Pelosi and Rep. John Murtha, a Pennsylvania Democrat who chairs a House subcommittee that handles defense spending.

"If we were to do what Speaker Pelosi and Congressman Murtha are suggesting, all we'll do is validate the al Qaeda strategy. The al Qaeda strategy is to break the will of the American people," Cheney told ABC News on Wednesday.

In response, Pelosi called on Bush to "repudiate and distance himself from the vice president's remarks."

"Mischaracterizations by the vice president will not dissuade Congress from developing, on a bipartisan basis, a responsible new direction for U.S. policy in Iraq that brings our troops home safely and soon," Pelosi said in a written statement.

Kennedy: 'Stunning rejection'

On the other side of Capitol Hill, Sen. Edward Kennedy called Blair's announcement "a stunning rejection of President Bush's high risk Iraq policy."

"No matter how the White House tries to spin it, the British government has decided to split with President Bush and begin to move their troops out of Iraq," Kennedy, D-Massachusetts, said.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice rejected that idea, saying, "The coalition remains intact and in fact the British will have thousands of soldiers deployed in Iraq in the south.

"The British have done what is really the plan for the country as a whole which is to be able to transfer security responsibilities to the Iraqis as conditions permit," Rice said during a news conference in Berlin with German leaders Wednesday.

Blair, announcing the withdrawal at the House of Commons in London, said that the number of British forces in the region would be pared from 7,100 to 5,500.

Blair said the troop reduction reflects stability in Basra, relative to violent sectarian and insurgent attacks that continue to plague Baghdad.

The much smaller population of the overwhelmingly Shiite south is more religiously homogeneous than the capital city -- which makes Baghdad more prone to sectarian violence.

Blair said British troops would increasingly play a support and training role with Iraqi forces assuming responsibility for security operations. More than 130 British troops have been killed in Iraq since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003. (Watch what may be the factors behind the decision Video)

Also, Denmark on Wednesday announced it would withdraw its contingent of coalition forces by August. Lithuania also said it was considering withdrawing its 53 troops. Denmark's 460 soldiers serve under British command in Basra. (Full Story)

At its height, immediately after the war began in March 2003, Britain contributed about 46,000 soldiers, sailors and air force personnel to the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. (UK forces in Iraq)

Prime Minister Tony Blair and President Bush appeared together at a press conference in December.


U.S.: 132,000
UK: 7,200
South Korea: 2,300
Australia: 1,400
Poland: 900
Georgia: 800
Romania: 600
Denmark: 460
Source: Brookings Institution; Jan. 2007


• Interactive: Who's who in Iraq
• Interactive: Sectarian divide


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