UK's Brown makes fact-finding visit to Iraq
( Reuters ) - Britain's next prime minister, Gordon Brown, arrived in Iraq on Monday for a fact-finding visit as he weighs Britain's future involvement in a four-year-old war that has angered voters and led to calls for a speedy pullout.
"Gordon Brown is in Baghdad to gather facts that will inform decisions he needs to make about Iraq over the next couple of months," a British embassy spokeswoman said.
It is his first visit since it was confirmed he was taking over the premiership on June 27 from Tony Blair, whose popularity among British voters was undermined by his support for the U.S.-led Iraq war.
Brown told reporters traveling with him: "This is very much an assessment more than anything else, a fact-finding trip."
The embassy spokeswoman said Brown, who was accompanied by Defense Minister Des Browne, would hold talks with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and President Jalal Talabani.
Brown has accepted mistakes were made in Iraq but has ruled out an immediate pullout of British troops. Nevertheless the British media has speculated that Brown may speed up the withdrawal of British troops from Iraq to assuage public anger over the war that has killed 150 British soldiers so far.
Brown's visit comes as the size of the British force in Iraq is being reduced by about 1,500 soldiers to 5,500 troops.
Brown, now finance minister, said last month he planned to visit Iraq to look at the situation on the ground.
British forces have handed over security responsibility to Iraqis in three of the four provinces they were in, with only the southern province of Basra remaining. That is due to be transferred in the coming months.