03/09/2007

British Troops Pull Out Of Basra Palace

The final withdrawal of British troops from Basra Palace in Iraq is almost complete, the Ministry of Defence has confirmed.

The UK troops will hand over control of the palace to the Iraqi army and the MoD said that handover is expected to be completed within a few days.

The 550 troops stationed at the palace will now join the remaining 5,000 UK soldiers stationed in the base at Basra Air Station.

A statement issued by the MoD on Sunday night said: 'Handing over Basra Palace to the Iraqi authorities has long been our intention, as we have stated publicly on numerous occasions. We will announce when the palace has been handed over once the operation is complete.

"The Iraqi security forces want to take full responsibility for their own security and the handover is a step towards that goal."

The MoD said that UK forces would retain security responsibility for Basra until it was handed over to provincial Iraqi control, which is now expected in the autumn.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4's 'Today' programme on Monday, Prime Minister Gordon Brown stressed that the withdrawal was "pre-planned and organised" and that troops would assume an "overwatch" role, but could "re-intervene" if necessary.

He added that any change in the overall number of British troops in Iraq would "depend on the assessment of commanders on the ground over the coming weeks and months".

(KMcA/SP)

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