Prime Minister Tony Blair said on Tuesday it was important for British troops not "to overstay" of Iraq, but said they would still have to complete the job.
Blair, speaking at his monthly press conference, tried to defuse a furor that arose last week when his army chief General Sir Richard Dannatt called for troops to withdraw "sometime soon" because they exacerbated security problems.
However, Blair urged journalists to put Dannatt's remarks that appeared first in Friday's edition of the Daily Mail newspaper in the context of those the general gave later the same day on radio and television.
"Of course it's the case... for some of those areas in Iraq, particularly where Iraqi forces now want to take control over areas, it's important we don't overstay the time we need to be there," Blair said.
"But in no sense was he saying... that we should get out of Iraq before the job is done," Blair said.
In an interview on BBC radio Friday, Dannat clarified that British troops were exacerbating the security problem in some areas of Iraq, but not all areas and were in fact welcomed in places like Basra, the main southern city.