LONDON – The British government underlined on Thursday that it will not "cut and run" from Iraq following that country's election this month, denying reports that London (search) is pushing Washington to set a timetable for withdrawing coalition troops.
The official spokesman of Prime Minister Tony Blair (search) said the government was not urging President Bush to announce a timetable.
"What is important is not a timetable which is irrespective of the facts in the ground. What is important is that we have a policy that is geared to allowing the Iraqis to take control of their own destiny," he said.
The spokesman said the coalition focus remained "Iraqi-ization" — training the country's armed forces to take responsibility for security.
"It is important we do not create a situation in which for the first time a democratically elected government is possible and then abandon it. We will not cut and run is what the prime minister said in April and that remains our position," the spokesman said.
The comments came in response to a report in The Daily Telegraph that quoted an unidentified government source saying Britain believed a timetable, however tentative, would bolster Iraq's transitional government and undermine the insurgents' claim that America intended to occupy Iraq indefinitely.
"Giving a timetable would be an important political signal that we intend to leave Iraq," the newspaper quoted the unnamed source as saying. "The main Iraqi parties are already talking about when coalition forces should be drawn down. America knows it will have to deal with this issue soon."
There is widespread speculation in Baghdad that whatever new government emerges from the Jan. 30 election will ask for talks with the Americans on a phased withdrawal, although major politicians from all political factions have been careful to say multinational forces are necessary for the time being.
In arguing against a delay in the Jan. 30 elections, Shiite politicians close to Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani argued that Iraq needs an elected government to negotiate the Americans' departure.
Condoleezza Rice, Bush's pick to become secretary of state, declined during confirmation hearings before Congress to estimate when even some of the 150,000 U.S. troops in Iraq may return home.
"I am really reluctant to try to put a timetable on that, because I think the goal is to get the mission accomplished," she said Tuesday, "and that means that the Iraqis have to be capable of some things before we lessen our own responsibility."