The most senior British general in Iraq, Lt-General Nick Houghton, is saying that there are plans for all British - and, one assumes, US - troops to be out of Iraq in two years' time.
If this is true, it marks an abandonment of the position - previously promulgated by President Bush and Tony Blair - that coalition troops would remain until Iraq was stable and democratic. It is also a strange contradiction of their previous opinion that only the terrorists and insurgents would benefit from a timetable for withdrawal. If General Houghton is right, it seems that that timetable now exists.
So why this change of direction? The following possibilities come to mind:
- the direness of the situation in Iraq has been grievously exaggerated and everything is nearly under control;
- the competence of the Iraqi security forces has been grievously underestimated;
- the unpopularity of the war is forcing Bush and Blair to adapt their tactics;
- the political, financial and human cost of securing Iraq has become too high.
If the withdrawal is mainly driven by some mixture of the first two possibilities, then the allied invasion of Iraq has been a splendid unacknowledged success. If the withdrawal is mainly driven by the last two possibilities, then the terrorists appear to have won in Iraq.