Breaking: Blair to announce timetable for British withdrawal from Iraq; Update: 1,600 troops out

I guess he couldn’t hold out forever. 1,500 troops out in a few weeks with more to follow, says the Beeb.

Basra’s in the southern Shiite part of the country. You can guess who’s going to fill the power vacuum there now, but even so, these two pieces from the Telegraph are must-reads if you missed them a few weeks ago.

Looking for details. Standby.

Update: The first Telegraph article says 3,000 troops were supposed to redeploy to a base outside of Basra by May. The Beeb says 1,500 are coming all the way home “within weeks” with a total of 3,000 home by Christmas. Quote: “Our correspondent said senior Whitehall sources told him that the pullout was ‘slightly slower’ than they had expected and ‘if conditions worsen this process could still slow up.'”

Update: By Christmas?

Reports circulating in Whitehall tonight suggested that Britain’s 7,000 contingent in Iraq could be cut to around 4,000 by the early summer.

Several battalions which had been due to go to Iraq in May during the next rotation of troops – replacing troops returning home – will stay in Britain…

Operation Sinbad – to transfer the lead role to homegrown forces – was complete and had been successful.

A “substantial” force will remain behind at the base at Basra airport, according to the Telegraph.

Update: Meanwhile, in Baghdad: “Don’t just fire back, crush the place where the fire came from. Don’t treat them with leniency. This is an armored vehicle here, use it.”

Update: Flip flop:

As recently as late last month, Blair rejected opposition calls to withdrawal British troops by October, calling such a plan irresponsible.

“That would send the most disastrous signal to the people that we are fighting in Iraq. It’s a policy that, whatever its superficial attractions may be, is actually deeply irresponsible,” Blair said on Jan. 24 in the House of Commons.

What explains the reversal? This, probably.

Update: The Guardian‘s hearing differently from the BBC: they say only 1,000 will be withdrawn by early summer (with everyone out by the end of 2008), and only to a base outside Basra.

Update 2/21: The actual numbers: 1,600 troops out soon (U.S. sources say it’ll be by May), leaving behind 5,500 in a support role. The Brits formally handed Basra over to the Iraqi military last week.