British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw hinted today that some British troops could be withdrawn from Iraq before the end of the year.
He said he expected “good news” from talks with Iraqi officials on handing over control of some regions to home-grown.forces.
Speaking as vigils were being held to mark the death toll suffered by British armed forces in Iraq reaching 100, he also insisted none had died “in vain”.
Mr Straw rejected calls for a timetable to be set for withdrawal but told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that progress was being made.
He said: “We cannot publish today a timescale saying we are going to leave on this date, but what we can and are doing is in active discussions 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.
“And 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.”
Every death of those serving the armed forces in Iraq or elsewhere was “terrible”, he said.
“We grieve for them. But … these brave young men and women who have lost their lives in Iraq have not died in vain.
“I have watched that country move from being an awful, almost perpetual, tyranny under Saddam through to a country which has had three democratic elections in the last year, which is now in the process of forming a genuinely democratic and broad-based government for the first time ever in its history.
“That is an astonishing achievement for the Iraqis in which British servicemen and women, and others from around the world ... have played a major part.”