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Iraq: Petraeus Warns Of 'Devastating Consequences' Of Early British Pullout

Petraeus, speaking to reporters in London, said abandoning the Basra area would leave U.S. forces and a key supply route susceptible to attack (AFP) September 19, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- The two top U.S. officials in Iraq -- General David Petraeus and U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker -- have urged Britain not to hastily withdraw its remaining forces from Iraq, warning of potentially "devastating consequences."

Petraeus, the commander of coalition forces in Iraq, said Britain should keep its forces in Iraq long enough to ensure that Iraqis can defend themselves. Otherwise, he said, they'd undo what he called the "magnificent" work they've done.

Two weeks ago, Britain finished withdrawing its 5,500 forces from Basra to a nearby airport, and handed over security in the southern city to Iraqi troops. About 500 of these troops are due to be sent home shortly.

Petraeus and Crocker spent last week in Washington testifying before the U.S. Congress in an effort to build support for his strategy of using a so-called "surge" of 30,000 additional U.S. troops to stabilize Iraq.

Brown To Address Parliament

On September 18, on their way back to Baghdad, they stopped in London for meetings with senior British officials, including Prime Minister Gordon Brown and General Richard Dannat, Britain's military chief of staff.

Brown is scheduled to address parliament about his Iraq strategy on October 8. He is under great pressure to announce a timetable for the withdrawal of all his country's troops. One member of parliament, Liberal Party leader Menzies Campbell, said Britain already has met what he called its "moral obligation" to Iraq.

As they did in Washington, Petraeus and Crocker acknowledged in London that the Iraqi government has yet to make meaningful progress on legislation and other acts to promote reconciliation among the country's rival groups. But they said the progress in providing security in Iraq has been tangible and has been made not only by U.S. forces, but also by their allies.

"The progress, though, is a result of many factors," Petraeus said. "Coalition and Iraqi forces have dealt significant blows to Al-Qaeda in Iraq and have disrupted Shi'a militia extremists. We and our Iraqi partners are being assisted by tribes and local citizens, in a very important development, who are rejecting extremism and choosing to help Iraq's security."

'Devastating Consequences'

Petraeus said there would be what he called "devastating consequences" if Britain were to remove its remaining 5,000 forces prematurely. They reportedly planned to tell Brown and Dannat that abandoning the Basra area would leave U.S. forces and a key north-south supply route susceptible to attack.

For his part, Crocker acknowledged that the situation in Iraq is difficult and has been so throughout the 4 1/2 years since the war began. But he called for patience, and, like Petraeus, said a hasty withdrawal would ultimately mean disaster.

"What I am certain of is that should we decide that we are tired of this, we want a dramatic policy change, we just don't want to be engaged any more at the intensity we currently are, then I am certain there will be failure," he said. "And we need to consider, very carefully, what the consequences of failure in Iraq could be for the people of Iraq, for the region, and for the international community."

The remaining 5,000 British troops stationed outside Basra are charged with supervising the Iraqi forces in the city. Last month, Brown, like U.S. President George W. Bush, said he wouldn't accept a timetable for their withdrawal. But even Britain's military commanders are recommending a smaller presence in Iraq because their country's armed forces, like those of the United States, are under great strain from operations there and in Afghanistan.

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