Defence secretary Des Browne makes surprise Iraq visit

Defence secretary Des Browne has made an announced visit to troops in Basra, southern Iraq, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) has confirmed.

A spokeswoman at the MoD said Mr Browne had flown to the Middle Eastern country to make a “regular visit to troops”.

He will also be updated on the security situation in Basra by UK commanders on the ground, the spokeswoman added.

The minister’s arrival in Iraq’s second city only emerged when al-Iraqiya television began broadcasting footage of him at a local business conference.

Mr Browne, whose visit comes a week ahead of the five-year anniversary of the US-led invasion of Iraq, is expected to remain in Basra until tomorrow.

Britain currently has more than 4,100 troops in Basra, deployed at the city’s airport, but the Iraqi army has assumed the majority of security responsibilities.

In a visit to Iraq last November, Gordon Brown announced the UK military presence in the country would be reduced to about 2,500 later this year.

Earlier this week, the Commons defence committee warned the cost of the Iraq conflict to UK taxpayers will rise 72 per cent to £1.648 billion in the coming year.

Since the US-led invasion of March 20th 2003, 175 British servicemen and women have been killed in Iraq, while 212 have been classed as either very seriously or seriously injured.