British troops withdraw from Basra

British troops have pulled out of central Basra as the UK prepares to wind down its mission in Iraq.

The 550 troops remaining at the Basra Palace compound have now joined forces at Basra Airport, where British troops are training the Iraqi army.

The pre-planned move is part of the UK’s ongoing efforts to transfer security responsibilities to the Iraqis, but has been met with criticism from Britain’s transatlantic allies.

A Ministry of Defence (MoD) statement said: “Handing over Basra Palace to the Iraqi authorities has long been our intention, as we have stated publicly on numerous occasions.

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

“The decision is an Iraqi-led initiative and is part of a coalition-endorsed process, developed in consultation with the Iraqi government, and follows the successful handover of several other bases within and around the city.”

The MoD was unable to confirm when the overall number of British troops in Iraq would be reduced, saying this would be dictated by events on the ground.

Although the withdrawal was pre-planned, the MoD has kept the date secret in order to prevent attacks on departing soldiers.

Shadow defence secretary Liam Fox said military families would want to know every precaution had been taken to maximise the safety of British troops.

Mr Fox said: “Our troops must not be put at needless risk to satisfy the political needs of Gordon Brown’s government, any moves must be based upon the military reality on the ground.”

The Liberal Democrats, who are calling for a complete withdrawal from Iraq, were critical of the move.

Menzies Campbell said: “The inevitable retreat from central Basra underlines the futility of the continuing British presence in Iraq.

“Nothing confirms that more than the fact the British troops will now be confined to Basra airport, an area which is impossible to defend and from where they cannot conceivably carry out any useful military function other than training the Iraqi army.”