Brown in Iraq for military switch

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown. Pic. Lefteris Pitarakis. 02/10/07. © Reuters.
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown. Pic. Lefteris Pitarakis. 02/10/07. © Reuters.

Britain's Gordon Brown, pictured, made his maiden visit to Iraq as prime minister yesterday since taking over from Tony Blair.

Britain's Gordon Brown, pictured, made his maiden visit to Iraq as prime minister yesterday since taking over from Tony Blair.

The visit comes in the wake of his military aim to hand over full control of southern Basra province to Iraqi forces by next month.

Brown held separate talks with his Iraqi counterpart Nuri al-Maliki and then vice-president Tareq al-Hashemi after flying into the protected Green Zone in the heart of Baghdad by helicopter from the airport.

The visit comes one month after Britain pulled its force of 500 troops from Basra and handed over the southern city to Iraqi control.

Yesterday the British military said that Britain expects to hand the entire province of Basra over to Iraqi forces this autumn, hopefully by the end of next month.

The BBC reported on Monday that Brown was considering cutting the number of British troops in Iraq by up to 2000 from a current level of 5250.

But a British government spokesman told reporters who flew in with Brown that the prime minister had not reached a firm decision on troop numbers or a timetable for a handover.

"He's going to want to discuss the developing security situation in Basra and prospects for Iraqis taking full responsibility and the timescale for that," he said.

Britain has already transferred control of three southern provinces - Maysan, Al-Muthanna and Dhiqar - back to the Iraqis.

The handing over of Basra is the final part of their mission. - Sapa-AFP

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