Will the US and UK quit Iraq sooner than planned?

Patrick Cockburn's reporting on Iraq the past three years in the English newspaper, The Independent has been some of the best I've read, and he's regularly months, if not years ahead of the American press. His latest suggests that a suddent withdrawal from Iraq is on the cards:
The... British intervention in Iraq... which started in 2003, looks as if it is going to be slightly shorter than the [1916 British invasion of Iraq]. By the end of 2006 the new Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki says that US and British troops will have handed over security to Iraqi forces in 16 out of 18 provinces. In fact 8,000 British troops could be withdrawn even earlier since there is no reason for them to stay in Basra which they do not control and where they are likely to take casualties. Inside the city the militia are already predominant. The motive for British soldiers staying is presumably so the US can have at least one ally with troops on the ground.
Why was Mr Maliki more assertive about the time table for withdrawal than his predecessors? Certainly he needs to offer something concrete on a US withdrawal to Sunni members of his government. Tariq al-Hashimi, the Sunni Arab vice president, said "there have been real signs by the US and British government that a decision was taken to withdraw foreign forces." He said this was enough for the armed resistance to talk to the US about the withdrawal and the role to be played by the insurgents after it is complete.
Read on...

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