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UK Goverment says no deadline on Iraq troop withdrawal

There is no strict deadline for the withdrawal of British troops from Iraq, Prime Minister Tony Blair\'s spokesman said, despite a top UK general clai ming a pullout could start within weeks. Blair\'s spokesman was responding to comments made by Britain\'s top officer in Baghdad, Lieutenant General Nick Houghton in the Daily Telegraph. Houghton said Britain will pull most of its 8,000 troops from Iraq by the middle of 2008 under a phased withdrawal that could start in the spring. He added that army plans to go ahead with such a withdrawal because it is confident it can be replaced by Iraq\'s newly trained 225,000 soldiers and police officers. However, Blair\'s spokesman said this was one of several \'possible scenarios\', but all decisions were conditional. \'In terms of the comments, there are all sorts of possible scenarios. The important thing as (Defence Secretary) John Reid has made clear, is that it is all condition based ... first and foremost of the quality as well as the quantity of the Iraqi troops and whether they can cope with the security situation,\' the spokesman said. \'It is based on the view of the Iraqi government -- which at the moment is that we should stay -- and it is based on the situation on the ground.\' \'All those things are factors that have to be taken into account. There is no subtle strict deadline or strict timetable. What there is is a process by which we judge the process we have made.\' Houghton told the Telegraph that the Iraqi people needed to see the withdrawal of foreign forces soon to be reassured that they did not plan to stay on in the country. \'There is a fine line between staying too long and leaving too soon,\' he said. \'A military transition over two years has a reasonable chance of avoiding the pitfalls of overstaying our welcome but gives us the best opportunity of consolidating the Iraqi security forces.\'