LONDON -- Britain said Monday it expects to withdraw thousands of its 7,000 military personnel from Iraq by the end of next year, while Poland and Italy announced the impending withdrawal of their remaining troops.Both Britain's Foreign and Defence Secretaries have now given a clear indication that Britain intends to withdraw a significant number of troops, somewhere around 50%, by December 2007. Tony Blair has promised to step down as the head of the ruling Labour Party (and as Prime Minister) ahead of the September 2007 Trade Unions Congress, which gives us an even more precise timetable for Britain's withdrawal from Iraq.
Polish President Lech Kaczynski said his country, a U.S. ally in Iraq and Afghanistan, would pull its remaining 900 soldiers out of Iraq by the end of 2007. And Italian Premier Romano Prodi said the last of Italy's soldiers in Iraq -- some 60-70 troops -- will return home this week, ending the Italian contingent's presence in the south of the country after more than three years.
The timing of this announcement has other domestic political import for Blair. Just as recently as this summer, M.P.s from Labour were calling for him to step down, and like Bush, saw his power in Parliament evaporate as his own party turned into what is the political equivalent of Iraq, a civil war, with Blair representing the far right wing of his leftist party (as opposed to Bush, who merely represented the farther right wing of his far right wing party). We can expect further hints like this as Blair tries to cobble together some form of legacy for his administration that doesn't tie his name to the words "Bush" and "lap dog".
Much patching and smoothing over will be required for Blair to come up with some sort of agenda over the next ten months. The deep rifts he has driven into both Labour and the UK will require his full attention, and I suspect that this withdrawal will be much sooner rather than later.