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Britain Rejects Early Pullout from Iraq

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw says it would be "utterly irresponsible" to remove the U.S.-led multinational force from Iraq while work remains to train Iraqi security forces and reconstruct the war-ravaged country.

Mr. Straw made a statement in Parliament on the Iraq elections, in which he praised the determination of Iraqis to vote, despite the threats from Islamic militants.

"In Sunni areas in central Iraq, large groups of people defied terrorist intimidation, and walked several kilometers to polling stations to cast their votes," Mr. Straw says. "These elections were a moving demonstration that democracy and freedom are universal values to which people everywhere aspire."

Mr. Straw also rejected calls from anti-war lawmakers that Britain set a timetable to pull its troops out of Iraq.

"It would be utterly irresponsible for this House or this government to make a premature decision about the withdrawal of British or other forces," Mr. Straw says. "It is for the Iraqis themselves to make that judgment. If the Iraqi government today wanted to say that our mandate had ended, we would leave tomorrow. But they understand fully that, without foreign forces on their soil for a period, they cannot rebuild their country and create the freedom and security and democracy that they all so desperately need."

In a related development, the Iraqi ambassador to Britain, Salah al-Shaikhly, told reporters Iraq needs support from the international military coalition, while it trains its own security forces. He also praised Iraqi voters for braving the terrorist threats.

"All in all, I believe it was a day of triumph for the Iraqis. And I'm so glad to say that the voters have silenced the voices of doom and gloom, the prophets of misery, who were forecasting all sorts of destruction and mayhem in the country," Mr. al-Shaikhly says.

Meanwhile, the British Defense Ministry says nine airmen and one soldier are missing and presumed killed in the crash late Sunday of a military transport plane northwest of Baghdad.

A militant group, called Ansar al-Islam, claims it shot the plane down with an anti-tank missile. Britain says the cause of the crash remains under investigation.