British PM: 1,000 troops home from Iraq by Christmas
(Middle-East-Online) Britain's Prime Minister Gordon Brown announced in Baghdad on Tuesday that 1,000 British troops could be home from Iraq by Christmas and Iraqi forces could take control of Basra within two months.
"I believe that by the end of the year the British forces which have been 5,500 can be reduced to 4,500 and by Christmas 1,000 of our troops can be brought back to the UK for other purposes," Brown said on his maiden visit to Iraq as prime minister.
Asked if there would be a further reduction in early 2008, Brown replied that there would be no further announcement for the time being.
"We will make our decisions in the future based on our assessment on the ground," he told reporters outside the British embassy in Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone.
He was upbeat about prospects of Iraqi forces taking control of the southern province of Basra, where British troops have been deployed since the US-led invasion in 2003.
"I believe that within the next two months we can move to provincial Iraqi control (of Basra), that is Iraqis taking responsibility of their own security," the prime minister said.
The visit, Brown's first to Iraq since taking over as prime minister from Tony Blair on June 27, comes one month after Britain pulled its force of 500 troops from Basra and handed over the southern city to Iraqi control.
On arriving in the Iraqi capital early Tuesday, Brown went immediately into talks with Iraqi counterpart Nuri al- Maliki and then Vice-President Tareq al- Hashemi .
He said afterwards he had spoken to Maliki about political reconciliation and had told him Britain was looking for further efforts to be made by all parties in Iraq to come together.
The reconstruction of Iraq, he added, was "vital" and Britain was proposing a Basra investment and development agency to boost employment and increase security.
Brown later went into talks with top US general in Iraq David Petraeus , American ambassador Ryan Crocker and Britain's General Bill Rollo .