Recent reports that Britain will take its soldiers out of Iraq in a early 2007 have been found to be false.

'No timetable' for Iraq withdrawal
7th March 2006

Downing Street insisted there was no "strict timetable" for British troops withdrawing from Iraq, after the UK's senior commander there indicated they could have quit the country by 2008.

Prime Minister Tony Blair's official spokesman said there were "all sorts of possible scenarios" but they were all "condition based", relating to the capability of the Iraqi's own forces, the wishes of the Baghdad government and the level of insurgency.

Lieutenant General Nick Houghton told the Daily Telegraph there was "a fine line between staying too long and leaving too soon".

"A military transition over two years has a reasonable chance of avoiding the pitfalls of overstaying our welcome but gives us the best opportunity of consolidating the Iraq security forces."

The withdrawal would need to start so that Iraqis could be convinced the soldiers were not a permanent fixture, he was reported as saying to the newspaper.

Lt Gen Houghton, whose five-month tour of duty in Iraq is about to end, said the recent bombing of the Golden Mosque in Samarra "has not in any way altered the plan and its potential timescale".

But he conceded the withdrawal depended on the formation of a national unity government and on sectarian tensions not worsening further.

Mr Blair's spokesman said: "There are all sorts of possible scenarios. The important thing, as the Defence Secretary John Reid has made clear, is it is all condition based.

"It is based first and foremost on the quality as well as the quantity of the Iraqi troops. It is based on the view of the Iraqi government and it is based on the situation on the ground.

"All of these are factors have to be taken into account so there is no strict timetable. What there is is a process by which we judge the progress we have made."