BAGHDAD – Britain will withdraw its remaining forces from Iraq to Kuwait by the end of the month because the Iraqi parliament failed to pass a deal allowing them to stay to protect oil platforms and provide training, a spokesman said Tuesday.
Britain already has withdrawn its combat forces according to a previous agreement. The British Ministry of Defense said the new announcement related to between 100 and 150 mostly navy personnel left to train the Iraqi navy. U.S. troops would be standing in for the British while they were out of the country, according to the ministry.
An agreement reached with the Iraqi government would have let some British troops stay in Iraq to train after most had left their bases around the southern city of Basra.
The lingering presence has faced opposition, principally by followers of anti-U.S. Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr who stalled the ratification of the deal until lawmakers adjourned Monday for their summer recess.
British Embassy spokesman Jawwad Syed said Tuesday it's a procedural delay and that the remaining British forces will pull back to Kuwait until the issue is resolved. The troops' existing mandate expires on July 31.
"The guys who were doing the training are temporarily moving out to Kuwait while we talk to the Iraqi government about what we might do in the interim," Syed said. "We have general broad support for our agreement ... we're hopeful that when we have the next parliamentary session, we should achieve a ratification."
Syed and Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said talks were under way to find an interim solution.
"The government considers it a benefit to have British forces for training purposes," al-Dabbagh said.
But al-Sadr's followers struck a hard-line.
"We will insist on blocking this agreement even after the end of the parliament's recess," Sadrist lawmaker Falah Shanshal said. "We reject any foreign presence on our waters and land."
At the height of combat operations in the months after the U.S.-led invasion, Britain had 46,000 troops in Iraq. Washington still has about 130,000 troops in Iraq and has shifted units south as London ended its combat mission.
British Defense Secretary Bob Ainsworth said the British troops were likely to be out of Iraq until late September, when parliament resumes after Ramadan.
"(The agreement) had successful first and second readings but the imminent Iraqi summer recess and Kurdish elections on July 25 have meant that their parliament has not yet been able to reach the quorum needed to have the third and final reading," he wrote in a July 24 letter to opposition defense spokesman Liam Fox.
Ainsworth said the government had been "deliberately keeping a low public profile" on the issue so as not to increase the risk to British forces.
The area in southern Iraq has been relatively peaceful since the Iraqi government staged a U.S.-backed offensive last year to quell violence by Shiite militias.
While violence nationwide have been declining, crime, on the other hand, has been on the rise.
Gunmen killed eight security guards and made off with nearly $7 million Tuesday during an early morning robbery at a bank in central Baghdad. It was the second deadly robbery in a week in Baghdad's commercial Karradah district.
A special committee made up of Iraqi army, police and bank officials was formed to investigate the robbery, which netted 8 billion Iraqi Dinars ($6.9 million), according to an Interior Ministry official.
The gunmen broke into the state-run Rafidain Bank at about 4 a.m., killing three on-duty guards and five others on the premises, who were either on a break or asleep, said an Iraqi police official.
Investigators believe the gunmen used silencer-fitted weapons during the attack because witnesses and neighbors didn't hear any gunshots.
All the officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release the information to the media.
Five people were killed Sunday when gunmen broke into the al-Nibal money exchange office in Karradah shortly before noon, killing three employees and two customers and wounding 12 others, including eight employees.