UK forces likely to stay in Iraq ''for years'' as attacks wound four US troops
British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said on Monday that UK forces were likely to stay in Iraq for years, not months - perhaps until 2006 or 2007.
Straw told BBC Radio 4's Today it was "a fact" that substantial number of forces would remain in war-torn Iraq for a long period of time.
Straw said he could not "give an exact timetable [of when UK troops would leave the region]... but it's not going to be months, for sure," Straw insisted.
Asked whether it would be years, he replied, "Yes, but I can't say whether it's going to be 2006 or 2007."
Straw said that if forces were to pull out from Iraq now, lives would be put at risk.
He said, "If we were suddenly to pull out, there would unquestionably be a security vacuum.
"And that would not only put lives at risk ... but it would also be a setback for the political process."
The British top official compared the situation in Iraq with the involvement of thousands of foreign troops in Afghanistan who for over two years have been split between fighting "terrorism in the south east of the country and operating as a stabilizing force".
"Those thousands of troops within that time period have played a very important role in providing a degree of stability and security which has then enabled the political process to take place," Straw added.
"And that's exactly the kind of situation we want to see replicated in Iraq".
The foreign secretary said he had no reason to believe that the July 1 target for handing over power to the Iraqi authorities would not be met.
Also Monday, the US military said a bomb went off near an American Army convoy west of Baghdad, wounding three troops, and another American soldier was shot and wounded when a foot patrol was ambushed northwest of the capital.
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