Tuesday, February 3, 2009

UK troops have met Iraq exit conditions - Reuters

British troops in Iraq have largely met the conditions required for their withdrawal and are on track to begin leaving the country by May 31, a top British commander said on Monday.

Major General Andy Salmon, commander of coalition forces in southeastern Iraq, said the holding of peaceful provincial elections on Saturday met the latest of Prime Minister Gordon Brown's goals for removing Britain's 4,000 troops from Iraq by the end of July.

"In the main, we've completely met the conditions," Salmon told Pentagon reporters in a video link from Basra.

"With that in mind, then, we will see British troops start to transition. They will finish the mission by the 31st of May and British troops will be out of Iraq by the 31st of July."

Two other goals set by Brown were the transfer of Basra's international airport to Iraqi control, which occurred earlier this month, and the rejuvenation of the region's economy.

Salmon said Saturday's elections showed that Iraqi forces are capable of tackling any political violence that might erupt as newly elected provincial council members select new regional governors by the end of March.

He also said the violence has fallen to levels not seen since the start of the war, which has encouraged investment interest.

Regional business leaders have received 17 firm offers of outside investment interest for projects worth $12.8 billion (9 billion pound). Potential investors include British drug maker GlaxoSmithKline and oil giant Shell, he said.

(Reporting by David Morgan; Editing by Vicki Allen)

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