STEVE INSKEEP, host:
Let's turn now to Paul Reynolds. He's the BBC's world affairs correspondent. And, Mr. Reynolds, what motivated this move now?
Mr. PAUL REYNOLDS (BBC world affairs correspondent): This has been the presage for some time, in fact, that it was said last year that when - if they reckoned - the Iraqis were capable of running security in Basra. And the British troops were only in the south of the country, remember. There's no real insurgency there. There's no Sunni-Shia violence. There have been some attacks on the British forces from some of the Shia militias down there.
But the ideas was when the Iraqis were trained up and ready to take over, the Brits will begin to leave. And that is what has been announced today, the first phase of the withdrawal. But there's no total withdrawal as you made - just now made clear in that clip.
The British are going to stay until 2008. But this is, I think, a psychological moment - a tipping point, if you like, where people are now thinking, well, the end is in sight.
INSKEEP: You mentioned the military rationale for drawing down the forces now. Is there a political reason as well?
Mr. REYNOLDS: Well, I think there is a political reason that is being presented as a military reason only. The political reason is rather similar to the kind of domestic pressures seen in the United States.
INSKEEP: Paul Reynolds in London, I want to mention to our listeners that this announcement was made during question time, a period when the prime minister takes questions from members of the opposition in Parliament, and the questions that he heard included this one.
Unidentified Man: Mr. Prime Minister, I understand that nothing that is said today will persuade those in all parties who voted against military acts in Iraq that they were anything but right to do so, nor will it persuade the British public that military action was anything other than a major foreign policy mistake.
(Soundbite of crowd cheering)
Prime Minister TONY BLAIR (Great Britian): I'm afraid I have never agreed with people that the situation in the Middle East was stable with Saddam, but there it is. That's the disagreement. There's no point in going back over.
INSKEEP: That's Prime Minister Blair responding to questions today. Paul Reynolds, given the political situation in Britain, is Britain about done being the strongest U.S. ally in Iraq?
Mr. REYNOLDS: Well, not as long as Mr. Blair is around, but then he's not going to be around for very much longer. I think after that, you will begin to see Britain detaching itself slightly from the United States. Yes, I think that there will be a shift.
A lot of what went on here in the House of Commons today was very expressive of the compatibility between the Bush view of the world and the Blair view of the world. There was a lot from Tony Blair today about al-Qaida having chosen Iraq as its battlefield and how it's got to be fought and beaten there. There was a lot of that kind of talk, which you won't hear from a new British leader. I think you will see a slight distancing when the new leader comes into power.
INSKEEP: Did lawmakers ask why Britain would be withdrawing troops at the same time the United States is adding more?
Mr. REYNOLDS: That didn't come up specifically, rather interestingly. I noticed that that's already playing out in the United States. But there is this contrast now. Of course, it's being explained away at official level by saying well, it's - you know, the British have a less difficult area to handle. They can now afford to leave. The Americans are not yet at that stage. They've got to get - work this thing through.
You're seeing a divergent policy between the British and the Americans that I suspect that the Americans have leaned on the British because this withdrawal, frankly, is not as rapid as we had been sort of led to expect.
INSKEEP: Paul Reynolds of the BBC, thanks very much.
Mr. REYNOLDS: Thank you.
INSKEEP: And we also have this dispatch this morning, a wire service report from Berlin, where American Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is traveling. And she's insisting today that the U.S.-led coalition of international forces is still intact, despite the British announcement.
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