LONDON (Reuters) - The United States and Britain are planning to pull all their troops out of Iraq by the spring of 2007, two British newspapers reported in their Sunday editions, quoting unnamed senior defense ministry sources.
The Sunday Telegraph said the planned pull-out followed an acceptance by the two governments that the presence of foreign troops in Iraq was now a large obstacle to securing peace.
"The British government is understood to be the driving force behind the withdrawal plan but all 24 coalition members are likely to welcome the move, given the growing international unpopularity of the war," the Telegraph said.
There are currently about 135,000 U.S. soldiers and Marines and about 8,500 British troops in Iraq. The full U.S.-led coalition numbers around 160,000. Italy, which has the fourth largest contingent in Iraq, has said it plans to pull out this year.
Britain's Sunday Mirror newspaper also reported on the planned withdrawal saying it would happen within 12 months.
U.S. and Iraqi officials have said frequently in the past that foreign troops will be gradually withdrawn from Iraq once Iraqi security forces are capable of guaranteeing security for the 27 million population.
U.S. and British troops have trained around 230,000 Iraqis to take on roles in the police force and a slowly expanding Iraqi army, although both are currently incapable of securing the country on their own.
The U.S. military withdrew around 15,000 troops after Iraq had successful elections in December for its first full-term parliament since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein in 2003.
Tensions in Iraq have soared over the past two weeks as fighting between the country's main Muslim sects has intensified. There is also an on-going two-year-old insurgency being waged by militants against the U.S.-backed Iraqi government, its security forces and foreign troops.
The recent sectarian violence has provoked fears that the country is on the brink of civil war, a scenario that could greatly complicate the role of foreign troops.
However, the Telegraph, quoting a defense official, said that if civil war were to break out, it would likely cause the withdrawal plan to be put off.
© Reuters 2006
Atleast all the terrorists know when it's open season now.
About damn time all ready...