Further troop withdrawals ‘not possible’

British troops will not be withdrawn from Iraq because of continued violence in the southern city of Basra.

Defence secretary Des Browne told MPs today that plans to further reduce the number of British troops fighting in the province had been put on hold.

In October, 1,000 of the 5,000 British troops fighting in Iraq were withdrawn and the government had indicated it wanted to cut their presence further to 2,500.

But Mr Browne said it was now appropriate to suspend further reductions, with British troops drawn into fighting between the Iraqi army and Shia militia at the weekend.

The defence secretary stressed the government was still committed to withdrawing troops from Basra.

He told MPs: “Before the events of the last week, the emerging military advice, based on our assessment of current conditions then, was that further reductions might not be possible at the rate envisaged in the October announcement – although it remains our clear direction of travel and our plan.

“In the light of the last week’s events, however, it is prudent that we pause any further reductions while the current situation is unfolding.”

Mr Browne is expected to update the Commons again at the end of April.

“Our policy in Iraq consistently has been to get the Iraqis to a point where they can take control of their own destiny and security,” he added.