Britain's top army commander said British troops in Iraq should be withdrawn soon because their presence was exacerbating security problems in the country, according to a British newspaper.
General Sir Richard Dannatt also told the Daily Mail in an interview published yesterday that Britain's Iraq venture was aggravating the security threat elsewhere in the world.
In unusually blunt comments for a serving senior officer, Dannatt said the troops should "get ... out sometime soon because our presence exacerbates the security problems."
Britain, Washington's main ally in Iraq, has around 7,000 soldiers deployed, mainly in the Shiite south.
The March 2003 US-led invasion to oust former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein has come under heavy criticism, as the civilian death toll mounts and British and US troops are increasingly in the firing line. Britain has lost 119 soldiers so far.
Dannatt, who took over as chief of the General Staff in August, suggested troops in Iraq had outstayed their welcome.
"The military campaign we fought in 2003 effectively kicked the door in. Whatever consent we may have had in the first place, may have turned to tolerance and has largely turned to intolerance. That is a fact. I don't say that the difficulties we are experiencing round the world are caused by our presence in Iraq but undoubtedly our presence in Iraq exacerbates them," he said.
Dannatt appeared to be suggesting the presence of British and US troops in Iraq was fanning Islamic militancy -- something British Prime Minister Tony Blair has consistently denied.
Putting himself directly at odds with Blair and US President George W. Bush, the general criticized the post-invasion planning by the US-led coalition.
"I think history will show that the planning for what happened after the initial successful war fighting phase was poor, probably based more on optimism than sound planning," he said.
"The original intention was that we put in place a liberal democracy that was an exemplar for the region, was pro-West and might have a beneficial effect on the balance within the Middle East. That was the hope, whether that was a sensible or naive hope history will judge. I don't think we are going to do that. I think we should aim for a lower ambition," he added.
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