Thursday, December 25, 2008

Few steps left to finish Iraq-UK troop deal - Reuters

Several steps are needed before Britain and other countries with small troop forces remaining in Iraq can secure final deals permitting their presence after December 31, a British military official said on Wednesday.

The clock is ticking on the U.N. mandate that authorises Britain's 4,100 troops, along with smaller contingents from Australia, Estonia, El Salvador and NATO, to be in Iraq.

A British military spokesman, who asked to go unnamed, said Iraq's president and two vice-presidents must ratify a measure parliament passed on Tuesday empowering the government to take any steps needed to allow the troops to stay through July 2009.

"There will thus be an exchange of letters between each of the governments of the countries who will have troops remaining after 31 December and the government of Iraq," he said.

"These will outline the tasks to be performed, the number of troops and the time lines for withdrawal. This exchange of letters can take place as soon as the law is ratified."

Britain, the main U.S. ally in the 2003 invasion and which once had 45,000 troops in Iraq, intends to keep about 400 advisers and trainers in the country after the July deadline.

With a week left before the U.N. mandate expires, the last-minute manoeuvring was due to parliament's rejection last week of a draft law governing foreign troops.

Lawmakers had argued the law needed to be replaced with some sort of treaty or agreement similar in format to the bilateral pact that Washington concluded with Iraq allowing its 140,000 troops to remain through the end of 2011.

British officials have said they don't expect Britain to whisk its troops, mostly stationed around the southern oil port of Basra, out of Iraq even if there is no agreement by January 1.

(Reporting by Missy Ryan, Editing by Michael Christie)

For the full report click here for the Reuters website

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