2008-07-23 10:10:29 GMT 2008-07-23 18:10:29 (Beijing Time) Xinhua English
LONDON, July 22 (Xinhua) -- British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said Tuesday that his country would withdraw more troops from Iraq early next year as the security in Iraq was "transformed."
Speaking at the House of Commons, Brown said, "subject to security conditions on the ground, our military commanders believe that the Iraqis will be able to take over development of Basra Airport by the end of this year."
"As the focus shifts from training combat troops, we will then move forward to the specific task of mentoring headquarters and specialist staffs," Brown said in a statement.
"As we complete these tasks -- and as progress continues across these different areas -- we will continue to reduce the number of British troops in Iraq," said he, who just paid a surprise visit to Iraq last week to meet British troops and held talks with his Iraqi counterpart Nouri Maliki.
Brown said Britain would pull out of its troops starting early next year.
"As last year we moved from combat to 'overwatch', we would expect a further fundamental change of mission in the first months of 2009 as we make the transition to a long term bilateral partnership with Iraq, similar to the normal relationships which our military forces have with other important countries in the region," said Brown.
However, future decisions would be based "on advice of our military commanders on the ground", he added.
Brown also said the security situation in the southern Iraqi city of Basra has been "transformed," with a massive drop in incidents of indirect fire against British troops in recent months.
British troops based at Basra air station had experienced just five incidents per month since April compared with a peak of 200 per month last summer, and an important element in improving security was the Iraqi-led nature of recent operations, he said.
Brown said British troops would continue to train Iraqi forces, completing the first stage of training for the 14th division and handing over development responsibility for Basra Airport by the end of the year.
Currently, Britain has deployed about 4,000 troops in southern Iraq. Since March 2003, there are a total of 176 British troops killed in Iraq.