Top US commander in Iraq emphasises 'reconciliation with enemies'

By staff writers
September 19, 2007

Top US commander in Iraq General David Petraeus emphasised "reconciliation" in Iraq yesterday, following a meeting with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

Referring to the British experience in Northern Ireland, he spoke of coming "to grips with the obvious idea you reconcile with your enemies".

Gordon Brown Tuesday met with Gen Petraeus and Ryan Crocker, the ambassador to Baghdad and was briefed about the security situation there.

Petraeus and Crocker also met with Secretary of State for Defence Des Browne earlier in the day.

Britain is now poised to announce significant cuts in the number of troops in southern Iraq. This was the message from defence officials last night following the talks.

The Guardian newspaper says it understands an announcement on further cuts in British troops could be made as early as October 8 when Gordon Brown is due to make a statement to MPs when the Commons returns after its summer break. A reduction of 500 troops out of a total of 5,500 has already been announced.

At a press conference after talks with Des Browne, the defence secretary, and British military chiefs, Gen Petraeus went out of the way to emphasise the intimate links between the senior commanders of the two countries in Iraq.

He declined to talk figures but said the talks included the "rotation" of British troops in southern Iraq. A change of brigades would take place between the end of October and beginning of December and would provide the opportunity for a new round of cuts in the number of UK troops based in Basra.

He said that, subject to continuing negotiations, he expected Basra province, the last of the four Iraqi provinces controlled by Britain after the 2003 invasion, to be transferred to the Iraqis "later this fall or in the winter".

He added: "There has been a substantial reduction over the past month and a half in the number of violent attacks [there]. Political deals appear to have been established."

Gen Petraeus also emphasised "reconciliation". Referring to the British experience in Northern Ireland, he spoke of coming "to grips with the obvious idea you reconcile with your enemies".

He said he had discussed "specific tasks" with Mr Browne and British defence chiefs. Officials said this was a reference to the importance of political and economic progress - an issue likely to have been raised in his talks later in Downing Street.

The MoD said last night Mr Browne "re-emphasised the UK's commitment to Iraq, that we will continue to help build their capabilities - military and civilian - so that they can take full responsibility for the security of their own country".

"Iraq's problems will require a long-term effort," Gen Petraeus said.

"These can succeed but they will take time. There are no easy answers or quick solutions to helping the Iraqis build sustainable security and achieve national reconciliation.

"Our assessments underscore the importance of recognising that a premature drawdown of our forces would likely have devastating consequences ... for our two nations and the world."

Mr Crocker defined Iraq's central problem as the absence of "broad agreement on the nature of the state".

Keywords:reconciliation | Iraq
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