Britain to reduce troops in Iraq

LONDON - Britain expects to be able to withdraw "thousands" of troops from Iraq by the end of next year, Defence Minister Des Browne said yesterday.

LONDON - Britain expects to be able to withdraw "thousands" of troops from Iraq by the end of next year, Defence Minister Des Browne said yesterday.

But Browne refused to give specific numbers.

"I have been asking our military planners to look at all the options to make sure we do not ask a single soldier to remain in Iraq longer than is necessary," he said.

Britain has about 7200 troops in southern Iraq, most of them stationed around Basra.

Shiite factions are battling each other for control of the city and British troops are sometimes attacked.

Britain has handed over to Iraqi forces control of Muthanna and Dhi Qar, two of the four southern provinces for which it took responsibility after the US-led invasion in 2003.

Maysan province is due to meet the conditions for handover to the Iraqi military in January.

Browne stressed that next year's troop reduction would be possible only if efforts by the coalition forces to greatly strengthen Iraq's security capabilities went according to plan.

"We need to be entirely clear that handover does not mean premature withdrawal," he said.- Reuters

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