1,000 U.K. Troops Coming Home From Iraq

Prime Minister Gordon Brown talks with British soldiers on October 2, 2007 in Baghdad, Iraq. An opinion poll lead for Britain's governing Labour Party has lead to speculation that Mr Brown will call a snap election in November 2007. (Photo by Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)
Getty Images/Peter Macdiarmid
Iraq will take over security from British troops in Basra province within two months, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki told reporters Tuesday after meeting with Britain's Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

Brown, on an unannounced visit to Baghdad, said 1,000 more British troops would leave Iraq before year's end.

The U.K. leader arrived in Iraq Tuesday morning to meet his counterpart and discuss troop levels with senior British, American and Iraqi commanders.

He was to meet later with U.S. Commander David Petraeus before flying to Basra to meet with his forces and military leaders in the oil-rich region in the deep south of Iraq.

"We are prepared to take over security of Basra within two months and we will," al-Maliki said, after the meeting in his Green Zone office. "Basra will be one of the provinces where Iraqi forces will completely take over security."

Brown confirmed al-Maliki's plans and said, "as we move to overwatch, we can move down to 4,500." He spoke at the Green Zone residence of Britain's top commander in Iraq Gen. Bill Rollo.

Brown said any further decision on British troop withdrawals would be made next year.

Troops vacated their last remaining downtown Basra base last month, accelerating calls from the British public to drawdown some forces.

Britain has about 5,500 soldiers based mainly at an air base on the fringes of the southern city of Basra, Iraq's second-largest city, 340 miles southeast of Baghdad.

Brown, making his first visit to Iraq as British leader, was expected to address the Parliament in London next week on the future of Britain's role in the war-torn country.

Brown aims for Britain to focus on economic development as its security role reduces and planned to question al-Maliki on the progress of political reconciliation, a British official said before the meeting, on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of talks.

Despite ongoing tensions between rival Shiite factions in Basra, the city had avoided the chaos some predicted would ensue after British troops left their last city center base, the official said.

Britain's defense ministry said rocket and mortar attacks on their base at Basra airport had fallen sharply in the last month, with only a few attempted strikes.

But Karim al-Miahi, the head of the Basra security committee and a member in the provincial council said the British forces' withdrawal from the area, "has had a negative effect on security in the city. Iraqi forces still are not able to control the situation which has deteriorated over the past three weeks. There has been an increase in assassinations of police and religious leaders."

Al-Miahi conceded that, "for the areas around the British base, the situation is more stable. Shelling there has stopped."

Abdul-Maunim Karim, 50, a retired sailor who lives near the presidential palace now vacated by the British, agreed that area there was quieter because the shelling had stopped. "But throughout the city violence remains at about the levels before the British troops left."

Advisers to Brown rejected reports the leader had already decided to withdraw between 2,000 and 3,000 troops by the end of the year, but acknowledged he is studying a range of options.

In other developments:

  • Deaths among American forces and Iraqi civilians fell dramatically last month to their lowest levels in more than a year, according to figures compiled by the U.S. military, the Iraqi government and The Associated Press.
  • In the latest U.S. deaths, the military reported that an American soldier was killed and 10 were wounded Monday in combat operations in central Baghdad. The same day, a soldier was killed and another was wounded in a non-combat accident in Qadisiyah province.
  • The founder of Blackwater USA says he is looking forward to telling his side of the story to members of Congress who said his private security firm was indifferent to Iraqi civilian casualties. Blackwater's founder and chairman, Erik Prince, was to be one of the witnesses as a House committee holds a hearing Tuesday into private security contracting. The FBI is sending a team to Iraq to investigate the role of Blackwater in last month's shoot-out in Baghdad that killed 11 Iraqis, an FBI spokesman said Monday.