British troops will withdraw from the southern Iraqi province of Basra at the end of March, British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said Friday, dpa reported.
"The British forces' withdrawal from Basra will begin on March 31, 2009, to be replaced by US forces," Miliband - on the second day of a visit to Iraq - told Voices of Iraq news agency.
Miliband, who had talks in Baghdad with Prime Minister Nuri al- Maliki and other Iraqi officials, added that his country's "support for Basra" would continue through British investors there.
"The British support for Basra and its local government will focus on the economic and investment aspects in the various fields," he said.
Miliband arrived earlier on Friday in the oil-rich province, where he discussed with local officials means of launching development programmes and encouraging investment.
Britain, main US ally in the invasion of Iraq in 2003, is to withdraw all its troops by mid-2009. Some 4,100 British troops are stationed in Iraq, the second largest contingent after US troops.
British forces, at the beginning of January, handed over Basra International Airport, their main base in southern Iraq, to Iraqi authorities. The port city is 590 kilometres south of Baghdad.
Late Thursday, the Iraqi Oil Drilling Company of the Oil Ministry signed a contract to form an Iraqi-British oil drilling company with a capital of 90 million US dollars.
"The new company, of which 51 per cent belongs to Iraq, while the rest belongs to the British firm, will introduce advanced drilling equipments to the country," Oil Minister Hussein al-Shahrestani said during the signing ceremony.