While Tony Blair’s announcement of a reduction in British troops in Iraq (read the full speech here) will have come as a relief to families of British troops, the nation’s press has been been less than complementary about the plan. Here’s a quick survey of what the pundits are saying:

  • It is an admission of defeat … Nowhere in Mr Blair’s statement was any admission of regret for reducing Iraq to a wasteland from which 2 million people have fled and 1.5 million are displaced internally. — The Independent:
  • Tony Blair’s long-awaited announcement on troop withdrawals from Iraq may inject a note of optimism into the biggest “legacy issue” hanging over his looming retirement … The prime minister has certainly been eager to see some good news out of Iraq in the run up to his departure, so he will have to dismiss suspicions it was being motivated by domestic political considerations. — BBC
  • Tony Blair says Iraq has made “remarkable” progress. Clusters of red on the British Army’s own maps of Basra suggest otherwise. On military charts, significant swaths of the southern city are security coded scarlet, for unsatisfactory. Other zones are marked green, satisfactory, or amber, between the two. Levels of violence and anticoalition attacks are far lower in the Shia-dominated south than the Sunni triangle around Baghdad. But British casualties have been increasing over the last year, with more than ten soldiers killed and 60 injured since November. — The London Times
  • Gone is the self-righteous liberal imperialist, intoxicated by his superior morality, who thought Iraq could within a few months be turned into a beacon of democracy which would inspire the whole region. In his place we have a politician who cannot bring himself to apologise for the Iraq expedition, or to do the decent thing and resign, but who is also growing weary of trying to justify the whole ghastly mess. — The Daily Telegraph
  • Anthony Cordesman, a Middle East expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the UK move “weakens the image of the coalition and further isolates the US”. “This is a war of perceptions, as well as military power, and the influence of British cuts will be negative,” said Mr Cordesman. “The British cuts will in many ways simply reflect the political reality that the British ‘lost’ the south more than a year ago.” — The Financial Times
  • Labour MP John McDonnell, who is bidding to replace Mr Blair as party leader, called for all troops to be brought home. He said: “I welcome the withdrawal but this is too little, too late. We need to bring forward a detailed plan for total withdrawal of all troops, and recognise our continued presence is part of the problem not the solution.” — The Daily Mirror

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey