“Tony Blair is expected to announce a timetable for the withdrawal of UK troops from Iraq,” the BBC is reporting this morning. “Mr Blair is due to make a statement about the 7,000 British troops serving in Iraq at the Commons on Wednesday.”

The Daily Telegraph tells: “Tony Blair is preparing to announce a major reduction in British troops in Iraq as a result of a successful operation to improve security in the southern city of Basra… Reports circulating in Whitehall tonight suggested that Britain’s 7,000 contingent in Iraq could be cut to around 4,000 by the early summer.”

Downing Street is not denying the rumours. Our Prime Minister, though, announced the deployment of more trainers to Iraq – and refused to rule out putting more troops on the ground.

The Prime Minister says the United States did not make a specific request for the additional trainers – but Vice-President Dick Cheney arrives tomorrow. John Howard seems to be chanting an updated version of the Harold Holt mantra: through thin and thick with George and Dick.

Perhaps he should look at Blair – and another British Prime Minister, Harold Macmillan.

Like Howard, Macmillan presided over prosperity. “You’ve never had it so good,” he supposedly said. But he got forced out. What did he put his demise down to? “Events, dear boy, events.”

Events are moving under the PM’s feet. The sands are shifting. Look at this week’s polls. Look at the Crikey Morgan findings. Iraq is unpopular, even amongst the PM’s own constituents.

The two killer issues largely out of the PM’s control are interest rates and Iraq – particularly Iraq. He’s at the mercy of what happens in the Middle East and Washington.

Rather than risk-taking, he should be making sure he’s on the firmest ground possible. Unless, of course, he also wants to be done for by “events”.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey