| Chief of the general staff General Richard Dannatt in London on Friday. (Reuters)
London, Oct. 13 (Reuters): Britain’s army chief said the presence of British troops in Iraq was exacerbating security problems on the ground and they should be withdrawn soon.
In bluntly worded comments to the Daily Mail newspaper, chief of the general staff General Richard Dannatt criticised post-war planning for Iraq and said the presence hurt British security globally.
The remarks could have political fallout on both sides of the Atlantic. The war has hurt the popularity of Prime Minister Tony Blair and is a major issue for President George W. Bush’s allies in congressional elections next month.
Although in later interviews Dannatt denied any split with Blair, he may have added to the storm by warning that overstretching the British army in Iraq could “break it”.
Britain should “get ourselves out sometime soon because our presence exacerbates the security problems,” he told the Mail.
“I don’t say that the difficulties we are experiencing round the world are caused by our presence in Iraq, but undoubtedly our presence in Iraq exacerbates them,” he said.
“I think history will show that the planning for what happened after the initial successful war fighting phase was poor, probably based more on optimism than sound planning.”
Blair told a news conference in Scotland later today that having read the newspaper interview and transcripts of remarks Dannatt made to radio and television stations there was no division between them. “What he is saying about wanting the British forces out of Iraq is precisely the same as we are all saying,” Blair said. “Our strategy is to withdraw from Iraq when the job is done.”
“The reason that we have been able to give up two provinces now to Iraqi control is precisely because the job has been done there,” he added.
The remarks were seized upon by anti-war campaigners. Reg Keys, whose son died in Iraq, said: “Here you have an officer, at last, who is prepared to speak how it is, and not be a mouthpiece for the delusions of a Prime Minister.”