UK general mulls Iraq pull-out

General Richard Dannatt made the comments in an interview with the Daily Mail newspaper for Friday’s edition of the newspaper.

“I don’t say the difficulties we are experiencing round the world are caused by our presence in Iraq but undoubtedly our presence in Iraq exacerbates them,” the general said.

General Dannatt said Britain should “get ourselves out sometime soon because our presence exacerbates the security problems”.

He went on to say: “We are in a Muslim country and Muslims’ views of foreigners in their country are quite clear … As a foreigner, you can be welcomed by being invited in a country, but we weren’t invited certainly by those in Iraq at the time.”

The general, who rose to his post as head of the army in August, said that the “military campaign we fought in 2003 effectively kicked the door in.”

“Whatever consent we may have had in the first place … has largely turned to intolerance.”

In response to his comments, a spokesman for the British defence ministry told AFP: “We have a clear strategy in Iraq. We are there with our international partners in support of the democratically elected Government of Iraq under a clear UN mandate.”

General Dannatt’s comments follow the publication of a study this week by researchers from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Maryland, the United States, which estimated that 655,000 Iraqis had died since the 2003 US-led invasion.

They also fly in the face of Prime Minister Tony Blair’s fierce defence late last month of Britain’s roles both in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Mr Blair warned against backing down in the face of mounting casualties in the two countries.

General Dannatt also said that though the original intention of invading Iraq was to put a pro-Western liberal democracy in place that “might have a beneficial effect on the balance within the Middle East,” he did not think “we are going to do that.”

“I think we should aim for a lower ambition.”

Anti-war campaigners, however, welcomed General Dannatt making public his views, with the left-wing Stop The War Coalition even inviting the general to speak at the group’s next public demonstration.

Rose Gentle, whose son Gordon was killed in Iraq two years ago, told Britain’s domestic Press Association that she was “glad someone has finally said something.”

General Dannatt’s comments were not out of character for the general, who in August told The Guardian that Britain’s military forces in Iraq and Afghanistan were stretched to the very limit, telling the daily: “Can we cope? I pause. I say ‘just'”.

Britain has 7,200 troops in southern Iraq patrolling an area around Basra, a bastion of Iranian-backed Shiite militias. Since Britain joined the invasion three years ago 119 British troops have been killed in Iraq.