THE BRITISH PULLOUT….Here’s the announcement from Tony Blair about British troop withdrawals from Iraq:

Prime Minister Tony Blair has told MPs that 1,600 British troops will return from Iraq within the next few months….Remaining troops will stay into 2008, to give back-up if necessary and secure borders, but the Iraqis would “write the next chapter” in Basra’s history.

….”The UK military presence will continue into 2008, for as long as we are wanted and have a job to do. “Increasingly our role will support and training, and our numbers will be able to reduce accordingly,” Mr Blair said.

This is a little firmer than I expected, though certainly short of a concrete timetable for complete withdrawal. However, as someone said this morning (I can’t remember who), one reason to think the withdrawal might actually be fairly speedy is that Gordon Brown will be taking over as prime minister soon, and he’s keen to get British troops out of Iraq before the Labor Party implodes completely. In any case, count Juan Cole among those who are unimpressed with the happy talk surrounding Blair’s announcement:

This is a rout, there should be no mistake. The fractious Shiite militias and tribes of Iraq’s South have made it impossible for the British to stay. They already left Sadr-controlled Maysan province, as well as sleepy Muthanna. They moved the British consulate to the airport because they couldn’t protect it in Basra. They are taking mortar and rocket fire at their bases every night. Raiding militia HQs has not resulted in any permanent change in the situation. Basra is dominated by 4 paramilitaries, who are fighting turf wars with one another and with the Iraqi government over oil smuggling rights.

Blair is not leaving Basra because the British mission has been accomplished. He is leaving because he has concluded that it cannot be, and that if he tries any further it will completely sink the Labor Party, perhaps for decades to come.

I don’t know about “decades,” but it’s sure not doing them any good right now. The latest polls have them in the doghouse.

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