British Prime Minister Gordon Brown's announcement that Britain would bring 1,000 troops from Iraq was met with suspicion in the British press yesterday, with newspapers accusing him of playing politics with the military.
His visit to Baghdad and Basra came amid fervent rumors that he was set to call a general election in the coming days -- less than half-way through a five-year parliament -- in a bid to capitalize on his governing Labour Party's resurgence in the opinion polls.
The Sun's editorial page was filled with questions over Brown's announcement, asking: "Was this the signal for an early election that everyone is waiting for?"
The tabloid, Britain's bestselling daily and a Labour-supporter at the last three general elections, said that the main opposition Conservatives, who were in the midst of their annual convention when Brown made his plans clear, "are entitled to ask why only 1,000 are coming home."
It cautioned Brown to "guard against suspicion that he is playing politics with Our Boys' lives."
The Daily Telegraph, a right-wing paper, prefaced its criticism of Brown's decision by noting that in "three short months Gordon Brown has established himself as a formidable political leader."
"But in playing politics with the military, as he did in Iraq yesterday, he has fallen prey to a regrettable mistake," it said.
"The way this has been handled is damaging for Mr Brown ... Playing politics with our Armed Forces is below the belt," the paper said.
Even the normally loyal leftist Guardian daily was skeptical of Brown's announcement, made just days before the House of Commons returned from its summer recess, describing the timing as "crude."
"And this from a politician who had promised to distinguish between affairs of the state and his own political interests. It looked like spin from a man who has tried to escape from it," it said.
Brown has been riding high in opinion polls, with two released before the start of the Conservative conference over the weekend both giving Labour double-digit leads over the opposition.
Some newspapers saw his announcement as not just an attempt to win political favor with the electorate, but a bid to upstage the Conservatives, a day after they announced popular tax reform measures and on the eve of Tory leader David Cameron's speech -- the highlight of the party's conference.
Among them was the right-wing Daily Mail, which wrote in its editorial that there was "something unpleasantly cynical about the prime minister's announcement."
"Why does he make it now, in the middle of a Tory conference?" it said.
"When Mr Brown came to power, he promised -- to his great credit -- to end the spin and deceit of the Blair era. But yesterday, he appeared to be playing politics with the troops ... Wasn't all this uncomfortably reminiscent of [former British prime minister] Tony Blair at his worst?" the paper wrote.
The right-of-center Times also made a similar connection, noting that "Baghdad and Basra are a long way from Blackpool," referring to the site of the Conservatives' conference in north-west England.
"It is hard, nonetheless, not to see some connection between the timing of Gordon Brown's visit to Iraq yesterday and the Conservative Party conference," it said.
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