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Last Updated: Saturday, 17 January, 2004, 16:41 GMT
UK return far off for Iraq troops
General Sir Mike Jackson
Gen Jackson said he expected morale among troops to be high
British troops are likely to stay in Iraq until at least the summer, the army's most senior soldier has said.

General Sir Mike Jackson said troops would stay for as long as it took to establish an Iraq with the "confidence to look after its own security".

But he said the new Iraqi government was unlikely to have every security need in place by the power transfer deadline on 1 July.

Speaking from Iraq, General Jackson played down reports of growing unrest.

'There are frustrations'

The Army's Chief of General Staff, talking on his way to meet British troops in Basra on Saturday, said he expected morale to be "extremely good".

With the enormity of what's going on... to me it's unexceptional that you get demonstrations
General Sir Mike Jackson

The general was interviewed shortly before three US soldiers and two Iraqis were killed in a bomb attack north of Baghdad on Saturday.

He said the evidence showed the overall level of violence had decreased "significantly" across Iraq since the end of the war.

"I'm quite encouraged by what I have seen and heard over the last 36 hours," he told BBC News.

He did not accept that demonstrations in the south of Iraq were signs of growing frustration.

"When compared to the end of the war and the inevitable chaotic situation... Iraq seems to me to be in a rather better position.

"There will be demonstrations, there are frustrations - of course there are - but there are big decisions and big events coming up now over the next six months.

"With the enormity of what's going on... to me it's unexceptional that you get demonstrations," he said.

'Good progress'

General Jackson said he did not want to give a date for British troops to return home, but said the government had made it clear the soldiers would be there for as long as they were needed, and no longer.

He said the Iraqis were making good progress in setting up their security services but "had some way to go" in getting them all trained and equipped.

"I don't suppose by the 1st of July the new Iraqi Government will be able to say to itself 'we have everything we need'. I'm sure that won't be the case, you cannot do this overnight."

General Jackson refused to be drawn on the complaint made by the widow of a British soldier who was shot dead in Iraq after having to give up his body armour to other troops.

She has blamed his death on equipment shortages, and called for Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon to resign.

General Jackson said the death of Sergeant Steve Roberts was a "tragedy", but he did not want to pre-empt the outcome of an investigation into the incident.


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