British PM pays surprise visit to Iraq before troops’ cutdown

By Xinhua

Baghdad : British Prime Minister Gordon Brown on Sunday paid a surprise visit to Iraq’s southern city of Basra weeks before partial pullout of the British troops there.

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Britain is expected to pull out 1,000 troops by the Christmas from its 5,000-strong force in Basra, and further cut it to about 2,500 from next spring.

It also scheduled to hand over the security control of Basra province to the Iraqi security force in the middle of this month. Britain has transferred the security of three southern provinces to the Iraqi authorities.

The prime minister visited the British base near Basra city and praised the troops’ contribution to Iraq’s improved security.

A total of 173 British servicemen have been killed in Iraq since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003.

An Arab broadcaster showed a video clip on Dec. 4, in which Iraqi kidnappers threatened to kill five British hostages if Britain does not withdraw its troops. The video was dated Nov. 18and the kidnappers gave Britain 10 days to pull out. A group of gunmen abducted the five people in May in Baghdad.

Brown has demanded the immediate release of the five abducted people.