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Britain Announces Further Troop Drawdown in Iraq


British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has announced a further drawdown of British troops from Iraq - leaving a total of 2,500 troops in southern Iraq by next spring. VOA's Sonja Pace has details of the announcement in this report from London.

Addressing lawmakers in the House of Commons, Mr. Brown praised Britain's success in training 30,000 Iraqi military troops and police officers. He said their ability to take control of security in southern Iraq make further British troop withdrawals possible.

"We plan from next spring to reduce force numbers in southern Iraq to a figure of 2,500," he said.

Mr. Brown said all troop withdrawals remain contingent upon security conditions in the area.

At the height of the U.S.-led invasion, Britain had 45,000 troops in Iraq. British forces were responsible for the southern sector of the country and by early last month their troop numbers had been reduced to 5,500. That number is scheduled to come down to 4,500 by the end of the year.

Mr. Brown also stressed that as troop numbers dwindle, the task of the remaining forces will shift increasingly to a training and mentoring role for Iraqi forces.

The prime minister also announced help for Iraqi civilians who have worked for the British in Iraq and who now want to relocate elsewhere due to safety concerns.

"Existing staff who have been employed by us for more than 12 months and have completed their work will be able to apply for a package of financial payments to aid resettlement in Iraq or elsewhere in the region or, in agreed circumstances, for admission to the United Kingdom," he said.

Mr. Brown said such relocation assistance would also be made available to some former Iraqi professional staff, including interpreters and translators.

Despite a lot of political bickering in the House, Mr. Brown's troop-withdrawal plans were generally welcomed even by the opposition.

But just as Mr. Brown was due to arrive to address the House of Commons, thousands of anti-war protesters marched toward the Parliament, briefly disrupting traffic and making their voices heard.