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UK to cut 3,000 troops from Iraq by May
Reuters (UK)
January 11, 2007

LONDON (Reuters) - Britain will cut troop levels in Iraq by almost 3,000 at the end of May, the Daily Telegraph reported on Thursday, citing a timetable for withdrawal the newspaper said it had seen.

Within the next two weeks, Prime Minister Tony Blair would announce the reduction to Britain's 7,200-strong force based in the south of the war-ravaged country, it said

The news came as U.S. President George W. Bush prepared to outline plans to send another 21,500 U.S. troops to Iraq.

A spokeswoman at Blair's office and a Ministry of Defence spokesman dismissed the Telegraph story as speculation.

"Our withdrawal from Iraq, we have always said it will be conditions based," the defence ministry spokesman said. "We would like to reduce our force levels as the Iraqis increase their ability to provide security for their own country."

The Telegraph, however, said it had seen a timetable for the withdrawal that would see the number of British troops fall to 4,500 by May 31.

The document revealed that barring "major hiccups" in the next few months, 1 Mechanised Brigade would enter Iraq with a much smaller force when it replaced 19 Light Brigade in June for a half-year tour, according to the Telegraph.

Blair on Wednesday said British operations aimed at preparing for the handover of security in Basra to Iraqi authorities could be completed in the next few weeks.

His comments may suggest an earlier handover than had been previously thought. Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett said in November last year that Britain could hand over control of Basra to the Iraqi government in spring 2007.

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