UK troop pullout
by Karen Lee Bracher
What is going to happen?
Britain is planning to withdraw around 1,600 troops from Iraq over the next few months - and aims to cut its 7,100-strong contingent to below 5,000 by late August or early September.
This is the first large-scale British troop withdrawal since the US-led invasion to oust former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.
The announcement has coincided with the US sending an additional 21,000 troops to Iraq, mostly in and around Baghdad, to try to restore order.
The announcement was made last Wednesday in the House of Commons by British Prime Minister Tony Blair.
The British troops will pull out from Basra, which is in southern Iraq, approximately 550 kilometres southeast of the capital, Baghdad, and close to the border with Iran.
US President George W. Bush and Mr Blair talked by secure video link last Tuesday before the announcement of the troop withdrawal plan.
Iraqi Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, has agreed to the arrangement, with the British troops taking on a more supportive role to the Iraqis, as Basra is handed over to local forces.
Mr Bush is viewing Britain's troop cutbacks as 'a sign of success' in Iraq. US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has insisted that the British move is not a sign that the US coalition in Iraq is falling apart.
The situation in Basra is apparently very different from the problems in Baghdad, where there is an al-Qaeda base, a Sunni insurgency, and violence involving Sunnis and Shiites. This means that Basra's future can be in the hands of the Iraqis.
Two years ago there were 9,000 British troops at the height of the conflict. The conditions in Basra have improved enough that they are able to give further control back to the Iraqis.
Once a base at Basra Palace is transferred to Iraqi control in August or September, and depending on the Iraqi capability, Britain may reduce troops further to below 5,000.
The remaining troops will stay in Iraq until at least next year and work to secure the Iran-Iraq border and maintain supply routes to US and coalition forces in central Iraq.
Denmark has also announced that it would withdraw its 460-strong contingent from southern Iraq by August.