Britain's Defense Secretary announced in parliament that more British troops will be heading to Iraq before the June 30 handover of sovereignty to an interim Iraqi government.

The announcement of the additional British troops was anticipated, but the figure of 370 was below what many expected.

Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon said the deployment reflects the increased threat faced by British forces in southern Iraq. The new forces will include more armor, specifically Warrior personnel carriers and royal engineers who will harden facilities against mortar and rocket attacks.

Mr. Hoon also left open the possibility of more troop additions in the future, if the situation warrants.

"It remains the case that we with our coalition partners are considering levels and dispositions of forces required in Iraq in the months ahead to support in particular the sovereign interim government of Iraq through the process leading to the election of a transitional assembly and government early in 2005," he said. "If we judge that further changes to the U.K. military contribution in Iraq would be appropriate to support this process, we will of course inform the House at the earliest opportunity."

The British defense chief underlined that security is seen as absolutely paramount right now as the handover of sovereignty looms.

"The key to allowing those people who are risking their lives to continue their excellent work on behalf of the Iraqi people in rebuilding that country is security," he said. "And that is why I have come to the House today to announce this further deployment of British forces because security is the key to all else that we need to achieve in Iraq."

Mr. Hoon was asked if there are any plans to move some of the British forces stationed around Basra to more sensitive areas farther north, like Najaf and Karbala. His answer was non-committal.

"There are a range of issues that we are currently considering and it is important that we with our coalition partners continue to examine the security situation as we move toward that hand-over," he said.

The new deployments will bring the British troop total in Iraq to nearly 9,000.