LONDON – A leaked document from Britain’s Defence Ministry says the British and U.S. governments are planning to reduce their troop levels in Iraq by more than half by mid-2006, the Mail on Sunday newspaper reported. The memo, reportedly written by Defence Minister John Reid, said Britain would reduce its troop numbers to 3,000 from 8,500 by the middle of next year. “We have a commitment to hand over to Iraqi control in Al Muthanna and Maysan provinces (two of the four provinces under British control in southern Iraq) in October 2005 and in the other two, Dhi Qar and Basra, in April 2006,” the memo was reported to have said. The memo said Washington planned to cut its forces to 66,000 from about 140,000 by early 2006.
“Emerging U.S. plans assume 14 out of 18 provinces could be handed over to Iraqi control by early 2006,” the memo said. The United States is training Iraqi forces to take over the country’s defence in the face of an insurgency involving allies of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and foreign militants allied to al Qaeda operative Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. But critics say Iraqi troops are not ready to take charge of security in their country. “There is, however, a debate between the Pentagon/Centcom, who favour a relatively bold reduction in force numbers and the multi-national force in Iraq, whose approach is more cautious,” read the memo. (MORE)