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Last Updated: Wednesday, 1 February 2006, 14:37 GMT
Straw hinting at Iraq withdrawal
UK troops in Iraq
"Active discussions" were being held about troop deployments
Foreign Secretary Jack Straw has said he expects "good news" in the next 12 months about withdrawing British troops from Iraq.

He said a timescale was not yet available, but "active discussions" about withdrawal were being held.

His comments come a day after British forces suffered their 100th death in Iraq since the invasion began in 2003.

Former senior Army officer Col Tim Collins said Iraqis would be "distraught" by a withdrawal.

Mr Straw, speaking on BBC Radio 4's Today programme said: "We cannot publish today a timescale saying we are going to leave on this date."

UK CASUALTIES IN IRAQ
100 service personnel killed
77 died in action
23 from non-combat injuries

He said discussions were about "how we draw down our troops on a province by province basis as we and the Iraqi government are convinced it is safe for them and for us to do so".

He added: "I think we will see, over the next 12 months, some good news in that respect and that will be a further mark of the worthwhile, very profoundly important job that all servicemen and women have done in Iraq to free and to create a better Iraq."

Anti-war supporters were preparing to mark the 100th death - that of Corporal Gordon Pritchard - with vigils throughout the UK on Wednesday.

If we leave prematurely, the vast majority of the Iraqi people would be distraught because you are abandoning them to the Iraqi militia
Col Tim Collins

The Ministry of Defence said Cpl Pritchard, 31, from the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards, was killed in a blast in Umm Qasr, Basra province on Tuesday.

His death followed that of Lance Corporal Allan Douglas, 22, who died on Monday.

Mr Straw said the servicemen and women who had lost their lives in Iraq "have not died in vain", as they had helped the country move from tyranny to democracy.

'Problems remain'

Col Collins, who gave a rousing speech to troops on the eve of the 2003 invasion, said the mission to stabilise the country had to continue as serious problems remained.

He highlighted three serious problems that needed to be dealt with - insurgency within Iraq, terrorism from foreign groups such as al-Qaeda, and crime.

Defence Secretary John Reid
John Reid said troops would not run from terrorists

"If we leave prematurely, the vast majority of the Iraqi people would be distraught because you are abandoning them to the Iraqi militia," he told BBC Breakfast.

"I think the mission we have undertaken in Iraq is one we must persevere with until the Iraqis are able to take it on themselves."

Defence Secretary John Reid repeated that the handover would start this year "whereby our troops would hand over to the Iraqis as they build up their capabilities and defence of their own security."

In reference to Col Collins, he added: "We are not going to be forced into cutting and running by the terrorists any more than we're going to stay there any longer than necessary."




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