Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Blair's withdrawal leaves Bush exposed

Though it has been broadly welcomed in Britain, Tony Blair's "announcement" today of a reduction in the number of British troops in Iraq is really nothing new. Goverment sources have been promising to withdraw troops for a while. One is left with the suspicion that the timing of the "news" has more to do with camouflaging the latest twist in the "cash for peerages" investigation going on in Britain, as well as preparing the ground for Mr Blair's approaching departure from Number 10. Another factor may be the opinion poll this week which showed that the opposition Conservatives, who broadly supported the war, have extended their lead over the government. Certainly there has been no sea-change on the ground in Iraq to justify the timing of the move. Despite official claims that Operation Sinbad - the effort to clear up sectarianism within the Basra police and military - has been a success, the violence, if anything is worse. And that is reflected in the fact that the withdrawal is actually happening much more slowly than one earlier report anticipated.

The announcement may have served the British Prime Minister nicely but, surprisingly, its timing has exposed President Bush, who has just ordered a surge of troops into Baghdad to try to stop the escalating violence. Bush's critics in the US are now using the clearly different directions of British and American policy to attack the President. The White House must be furious.

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