British premier on surprise visit to Iraq

July 19th, 2008 - 3:56 pm ICT by IANS  

A file-photo of Gordon Brown
Baghdad, July 19 (DPA) British Prime Minister Gordon Brown arrived in Iraq Saturday on an unannounced visit, according to Iraq’s state television. Brown is expected to meet Iraqi leaders and visit British troops based in the south.

Britain, which has about 4,000 troops in Iraq, handed responsibilities for security in Basra province to Iraqi troops in December, effectively marking the end of almost five years of British control on the south of Iraq.

British troops remain in the south confined to a single base at Basra airport.

Since October the British government has scaled down troops from 5,000 to 4,000 but further troop cuts to 2,500 had been halted after the launch of an Iraqi government’s crackdown on Shia militias in Basra end of March.

The British government’s regional spokesman, Jon Wilks, told the Iraqi state-owned daily al-Sabah that no negotiations were underway over a security pact between Britain and Iraq.

“We are waiting for the outcome of talks between the US and Iraq over a bilateral security pact,” Wilks said in the remarks published Saturday.

“Britain’s long-term strategic goal is to establish ties with Iraq on a permanent basis in the areas of trade and investment and boost cultural and academic cooperation,” he said.

The British spokesman said his government set no timetable for the withdrawal of British troops from Iraq and any redeployment depended on the situation on the ground.

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