Nouri al-Maliki tells Britain, “Time to go home”

British combat forces are no longer needed to maintain security in southern Iraq and should leave the country, Nouri al-Maliki, the Iraqi Prime Minister, has told The Times.

In an exclusive interview in Baghdad, Mr al-Maliki also criticised a secret deal made last year by Britain with the al-Mahdi Army, Iraq’s largest Shia militia. He said that Basra had been left at the mercy of militiamen who “cut the throats of women and children” after the British withdrawal from the city.

The Iraqi leader emphasised, however, that the “page had been turned” and he looked forward to a friendly, productive relationship with London. Of Britain’s presence in southern Iraq, Mr al-Maliki said: “We thank them for the role they have played, but I think that their stay is not necessary for maintaining security and control. There might be a need for their experience in training and some technological issues, but as a fighting force, I don’t think that is necessary.”

Britain wants to base its agreement on a similar deal being hammered out between Baghdad and Washington. But divisions on certain issues, in particular the immunity of US troops from Iraqi prosecution, have delayed the signing of that accord.

You have to consider whether Gordon Brown wants to weasel permission to leave from George W. – or wait till next January for the next president in case there’s a change in permission slips from the new headmaster?