The end of the Iraq campaign in sight

BRITISH troops will start withdrawing from Iraq in May next year at the latest, Prime Minister Gordon Brown told the Commons this morning.In a statement reporting his visit to Baghdad and Basra yesterday, Mr Brown said troop numbers would be cut from 4,100 to less than 400 by July 31.

Graham Dines

BRITISH troops will start withdrawing from Iraq in May next year at the latest, Prime Minister Gordon Brown told the Commons this morning.

In a statement reporting his visit to Baghdad and Basra yesterday, Mr Brown said troop numbers would be cut from 4,100 to less than 400 by July 31.

The majority of those remaining will be dedicated to naval training after the completion of key tasks set by ministers.

Mr Brown told MPs: “In the last five and half years Iraq has faced great challenges and endured dark days. But it has also made very significant progress. We can be proud of the way our forces carried out their mission in the most difficult time and proud of what they accomplished.”

He added: “Today's levels of violence across the whole of Iraq are at their lowest for five years, economic growth this year is almost 10%.”

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The British campaign had endured “great hardship and sacrifice.” A memorial wall outside the British headquarters in Basra, commemorating the 178 servicemen and women who had died there, would be brought back to a “fitting resting place.”

The Prime Minister said: “We will do so when at the end of July the last of our combat troops leave Basra - a memorial now forever to be in Britain.”

Britain's future role will focus on protection of Iraqi oil platforms and long term training of the Iraqi navy. “In other words the realisation of the normal defence relationships, similar to that we have with our other key partners in the region, was our joint objective for 2009.”

Opposition leaded David Cameron also paid tribute to the work of British forces and welcomed the announcement about the memorial wall. “We should recognise that as well as the Army, the Navy and the RAF have both served superbly in Iraq and today of all days we must remember the fallen in Iraq and the many, many who have been wounded.”

Conservative leader David Cameron said the move would be welcomed by everyone, not least those with family members still serving in Iraq.

Both leaders praised the courage and professionalism of British troops serving in Iraq over the last five years.

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