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Britain's Prime Minister Visits Troops in Southern Iraq


British Prime Minister Gordon Brown made a surprise visit Sunday to southern Iraq, where he praised British troops' efforts and confirmed that Basra province will soon be turned over to Iraqi control.

Mr. Brown says Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is suggesting that local officials in Basra take charge of their own security within the next two weeks.

The British government plans to cut its current force of 4,500 troops in Iraq roughly in half by mid-2008. British forces already have transferred their responsibilities to Iraqi authorities in three other provinces.

Mr. Brown also is calling for the immediate release of five Britons held hostage by an Iraqi Shi'ite group for the past six months.

The group that holds the hostages released a video last week Tuesday that showed one of the five men and demanded the withdrawal of all British forces from Iraq.

The missing men - four security guards and one computer expert - were seized at a Finance Ministry building in Baghdad in May.

Meanwhile, authorities in central Iraq say a roadside bombing near Hilla has killed the police chief of Babil province, Major-General Qais al-Maamouri and two of his bodyguards.

Provincial police officials are a frequent target for milit6ants in Iraq. A roadside bomb killed the police chief of Diwaniya province in August.

Some information for this report was provided by AP and Reuters.

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