By Thomas Harding in Basra
Planning is far advanced for the withdrawal of the 4,000 soldiers from the Basra area under a move called Operation Drayton, The Daily Telegraph has learnt.
The operation will accelerate if the security situation remains stable following the key provincial elections on Jan 31.
Asked if the countdown had begun towards what Gordon Brown called "fundamental mission change" – the code for withdrawal – Major Gen Andy Salmon, the British divisional commander, said that the "clock is ticking nicely".
If the Iraqi 14th Division, which control Basra, manage the elections well, "we will be in a position after that to say that we are pretty much there," he said.
"If we adapt to Iraqi needs then we will avoid outstaying our welcome. Then we will arrive at a mutually agreed position as to when we have met our conditions.
"If the election goes well then our job is heading towards being done. We would have completed our tasks – that is a considerable part of the security issue down here resolved, sorted and completed."
Plans have been drawn up for the British force to be ready to move at 30 days notice when the signal comes from London. The signal date is likely to be beneficial to the Government.
The first battalions could leave Iraq by as early as March, military sources have disclosed.
read the full article online at the Telegraph website