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Britons back army chief on pulling out of Iraq-poll

Reuters | October 15, 2006

Most Britons back the country's army chief who said British troops should be withdrawn from Iraq soon because their presence was making security worse, a poll showed on Sunday.

Chief of the General Staff Richard Dannatt sparked a media and political storm last week when he criticised post-war planning for the 2003 U.S.-led invasion in a rare interview.

Dannatt told the Daily Mail British troops should pull out "sometime soon because our presence exacerbates the security problems" both in Iraq and for British interests around the globe.

In an ICM telephone poll for the Sunday Express newspaper, 74 percent of those questioned agreed with Dannatt.

His remarks were extraordinary from such a senior serving officer and added to Prime Minister Tony Blair's troubles over the Iraq war. The conflict, which divided Britain, has damaged Blair's standing among his party and the public.

In later interviews, Dannatt denied any split with Blair.

Blair said on Friday he had read the transcripts of the general's interviews and he supported the remarks, adding the British strategy was to withdraw when the job was done.

"What he is saying about wanting the British forces out of Iraq is precisely the same as we are all saying," Blair said.

Blair's spokesman said the prime minister had full confidence in his general.

Commentators were divided on Sunday over whether Dannatt's comments were inappropriate for a serving general and went against the tenets of Britain's unwritten constitution, under which army officers do not stray into politics.

Some called for him to be sacked while others welcomed the fact that he had spoken out.

"It was a clear constitutional breach," said former Bosnia peace overseer Paddy Ashdown. "He certainly shouldn't have said it," Ashdown, also former leader of Britain's Liberal Democrats, told Sky television news.

But in the ICM/Express poll, 71 percent of Britons said Dannatt should not be sacked.

Britain, Washington's main Iraq war ally, has 7,200 troops in the country. Since March 2003, 113 British soldiers have been killed in Iraq.

British generals have said they hope to cut their force in Iraq by half by the middle of next year. They have turned over control of two of the four provinces they patrol to Iraqis.


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