Paddy Ashdown said: “Our withdrawal rate should be determined not by the security situation — which allows the militias, the insurgents, to determine our withdrawal — but by the state of training of the Iraqi forces.”
Mr Ashdown, a former international envoy in Bosnia, told the BBC there were “no good options left” in Iraq but this was the “least worst” and carried fewer risks than other policies.
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who has accepted “mistakes” were made in Iraq, has resisted calls for an immediate withdrawal of Britain’s 5,500-strong force in Iraq and said their return was dependent on the security situation.
Also interviewed on the BBC yesterday, his foreign secretary David Miliband stuck to that line and said he would assess Mr Ashdown’s report “in the sober way it requires”.
Mr Ashdown was speaking after the Iraq Commission he co-chaired published a report on Saturday night calling on Britain to end military operations in Iraq and focus instead on training Iraqi forces.
Its central recommendation was for Britain to “preserve and underpin” the territorial integrity of Iraq, promote regional engagement in its reconstruction and prevent al-Qaida using it as a base to launch attacks.
It also called for Mr Brown to work more with the United Nations and Iraq’s neighbours to support and promote the country’sreconstruction and build up its state infrastructure.
The commission said Britain had a legal and moral responsibility to the country it invaded but the prevailing view of more than 50 witnesses it interviewed was that “only Iraqis can make Iraq better”.
The report, commissioned by the Foreign Policy Centre think tank and Channel 4 television with a remit similar in scope to the US Iraq Study Group, also comes as US President George W Bush is being urged to change course.
But Mr Bush has stood firm in the face of proposals for congress to reauthorisea sharply narrowed US mission in Iraq, with a new focus on counter-insurgency, troop training and securing borders.