A Scottish newspaper reported yesterday that incoming British Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, is planing a "grand gesture" on Iraq policy, designed to restore some of the damage the Labour party has suffered as a result of Tony Blair's disastrously unpopular support of the US-backed invasion.
The Prime Minister elect is working on a withdrawal plan that could see troop numbers slashed from 7,000 to as few as 2,000 within 12 months, Scotland on Sunday reports.
If implemented, the strategy would culminate in total withdrawal no later than spring 2010, the date by which Brown must go to the country to seek his own mandate.
Unnamed "senior ministers" confirmed for journalist Brian Brady that an accelerated draw-down of troops could be "comfortably achieved" well within two years, by which time Brown will likely be preparing for an electoral showdown with political rival and Conservative party leader David Cameron.
One senior Cabinet minister, expected to play a central role in Brown's first government, told Brady that an accelerated withdrawal from Iraq was one of the "foremost options" under consideration.
He added: "We are already committed to a withdrawal of sorts. The schedule can be altered so it is comfortably done within two years."
The newspaper also reported that President Bush has already been briefed to expect a major policy shift on Iraq during Gordon Brown's first 100 days in office, leaving some to wonder what Tony Blair told the president in last week's White House meeting.
Afterwards, responding to media questions in the Rose Garden, Blair said he believed that the UK under Brown's leadership would "remain a staunch and steadfast ally in the fight against terrorism in Iraq and Afghanistan and elsewhere."
Blair announced in February that he would commence a draw-down in British troops, with a goal to pullout 2,000 by late summer, and the remainder to be gradually reduced over the coming two years. However, a Ministry of Defence planning document leaked to the British media in April indicated the UK planned to maintain some kind of military presence in Iraq until 2012.
But the latest plans under discussion would involve reducing the British presence much more rapidly: to 4,000 by late summer and perhaps 2,000 to 3,000 by the year end. The ultimate hope is to draw down to a "nominal" force within 18 months, with a complete exit achieved within two years of Brown coming to power.
The new plan would allow Brown the distinction of presiding over the homecoming of British troops before he has to rely on the support of the British population for re-election, a majority of which opinion polls indicate believe the UK should have never participated in the US-backed invasion.