Basra withdrawal agreed with US, PM claims

Gordon Brown today moved to play down rumours of a rift with Washington over the withdrawal of British troops from Basra.

He said the decision to move 500 British troops from Basra Palace to the airport had been taken in conjunction with the US and Iraqi military.

Speaking to reporters during his monthly press conference, the prime minister also rejected any suggestion policy in Iraq could be politically motivated.

Mr Brown has been under pressure since entering Number 10 to withdraw British troops entirely and some commentators speculated he could do so as an easy way to boost his poll ratings.

But the prime minister said all decisions over troop movements would be based on the security situation on the ground and requests from the Iraqi government.

He said this week’s withdrawal from Basra was “pre-planned” and informed by the local security situation.

The Ministry of Defence has transferred troops from security to over watch operations in three Iraqi provinces. However, Mr Brown said this could only happen in Basra “when the time is right”.

He said: “The whole purpose of our policy has been to transfer responsibility from our forces to the Iraqi security forces.

“That has not yet happened in Basra, what we have done is move from Basra Palace to Basra Air Station in a pre-planned exercise, we will have to make a further decision when the time is right as to whether we move from combat to over watch in Basra as a whole.

“The very fact that this change from Basra Palace to Basra Air Station has been able to take place in an orderly way is a reflection of the greater security of the area.”

Last month a US intelligence official claimed Britain had “lost” Basra. But today, Mr Brown rejected any claims UK troops had failed.

He said they had trained 30,000 Iraqi troops in the Basra area as well as improving local infrastructure, including education and health facilities, creating jobs and renovating the port area.

This means the Iraqi people have been given “a greater stake in the future,” according to the prime minister.

Mr Brown concluded: “I believe that the presence of British troops and the work that we have done in improving the infrastructure around the area is recognised by many people in the Basra province.”