Iraq to take control of Basra in two months
Iraq's Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said on Tuesday his country would take over the security responsibility of the southern province of Basra in two months from the British forces.
"We are prepared to take over security of Basra within two months," Maliki told reporters after meeting visiting his British counterpart Gordon Brown in Baghdad's heavily-fortified Green Zone.
For his part, Brown said, "I believe that within the next two months we can move to provincial Iraqi control that is Iraqis taking responsibility for their own security."
"As we are moving to overwatch, We can move down to 4,500," Brown said, adding that he was optimistic that 1,000 more British troops would be withdrawn from Iraq by Christmas.
He said any further cut for his country's troops, which now stands at about 5,500, would be decided next year.
The British troops are largely deployed around an airport in Basra, some 550 km south of Baghdad, which is the second largest city in Iraq and a major hub for Iraq's oil industry.
Brown arrived in the Iraqi capital earlier in the day on an unannounced visit. It was his first visit to Iraq after he took over as prime minister from Tony Blair on June 27.
Brown was expected to meet other Iraqi leaders and the US top commander in Iraq, Gen David Petraeus, before leaving for Basra to meet with his forces.
According to British media reports, Brown's visit came a week before he is to deliver a significant statement to the British house of parliament, in which he was expected to announce a major cut for the British troops in Basra Province.
Early in September, some 500 of the 5,500 British troops pulled out of their base in Basra presidential palace, which was built by former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein, and moved back to the airport.