LONDON,(Reuters) – Britain has ruled out setting a timetable for the withdrawal of its soldiers from Iraq, saying they will stay "until the job is done".
Writing in Britain”s Times newspaper on Friday, Defence Secretary John Reid said a pull-out would come only after Iraqis were capable of taking the lead in tackling the insurgency.
"Any withdrawal of forces will be based on local conditions, not some immutable timetable," Reid wrote. "This will mean a transition, a process, not a peremptory decision or a one-off event."
U.S. officials have avoided suggesting a timetable since insurgent violence worsened sharply after the new government took power in April.
President George W. Bush has repeatedly said a timetable depends on the readiness of Iraqi troops to keep the peace.
Leaked British government documents published in a London newspaper last month suggested Britain is planning to cut its Iraq forces to 3,000 from 8,500 by the middle of next year.
The document, published by the Mail on Sunday, said Washington is discussing plans to cut its force, now nearly 140,000, to just 66,000 by mid-2006.
Defence Secretary Reid said Britain would "stand shoulder to shoulder" with Iraq until its new democracy takes root.
He accused the western media of playing into the hands of the militants by failing to give due weight to progress being made in parts of Iraq.
"Every day that the militants can generate articles telling westerners that Iraq is in turmoil is a day they feel they have done a good job," Reid wrote. "So let”s not sell short the progress that is being made."
He said healthcare spending was 30 times higher than under former President Saddam Hussein and that more than 3,000 schools had been renovated.
Britain was Washington”s main ally in the 2003 war to topple Saddam.