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UK plans Iraq troop cut to 2,500

  • Story Highlights
  • UK PM Gordon Brown: UK troop numbers in Iraq to fall from 5,500 to 2,500
  • British troops have been based in Basra, in the southeast region
  • Brown insisted move to cut troop numbers was not an "admission of defeat"
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LONDON, England (CNN) -- British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has said the number of UK troops in Iraq will fall from the current level of 5,500 to 2,500 by next spring.

Brown had said while in Iraq last week that Britain planned to cut its deployment by 1,000 by Christmas.

Speaking in the House of Commons, Brown said Britain plans to move from leading Iraqi troops into an "overwatch" role in the next two months and then reduce the numbers from 5,500 to 4,500 "immediately after provincial Iraqi control, and then to 4,000."

He said that "in the second stage of overwatch in the spring, and guided as always by advice of military commanders" the reduction will be to 2,500 troops -- "with a further decision about the next phase made then."

"In both stages of 'overwatch' around 500 logistics and support personnel will be based outside Iraq elsewhere in the region," Brown said.

British troops have been based in Basra, in the southeast region. Brown said the recent base handover in Basra city in early September is a good sign of things to come since the "present security situation has been calmer."

"Indeed in the last month there have been five indirect fire attacks on Basra Air Station compared with 87 in July. And while the four southern provinces have around 20 percent of the Iraqi people they still account for less than 5 percent of the overall violence in Iraq.

Brown also announced a new policy helping its local Iraqi staffers.

"Existing staff who have been employed by us for more than 12 months and have completed their work will be able to apply for a package of financial payments to aid resettlement in Iraq or elsewhere in the region, or -- in agreed circumstances -- for admission to the UK.

"And professional staff --- including interpreters and translators --- with a similar length of service who have left our employ since the beginning of 2005 will also be able to apply for assistance."

Brown earlier Monday insisted the move to cut the number of British troops in Iraq was not an "admission of defeat" and that they were in fact winning the security battle in southern Iraq.

CNN's European Political Editor Robin Oakley noted the controversy over the way Brown announced a troop cut in Basra last week during the opposition Conservative Party conference. Opposition leader David Cameron accused the PM of playing politics with troops' lives and said 500 of the troops had previously been announced as coming home.

"This is not double counting of Government spending, this is not just spinning the good bits of a Budget, this is about dealing with people's lives and the families of our brave servicemen," Cameron added.

It remains uncertain what role the UK troops will play in Iraq, Oakley said, as troop levels are reduced and Cameron pressed Brown to be more specific. Cameron also called for an independent inquiry into the war and asked that Parliament should be provided with progress reports on Iraq and Afghanistan at least every three months.

CNN's Senior International Correspondent Nic Robertson, in Basra, confirmed Monday that British troops there had told him violence had gone down significantly since they left the center of Basra in recent weeks to the city's airport. Before then 90 percent of violence was focused on them.

"That's allowing British troops to get involved more in building up Iraqi security forces, as Brown outlined in parliament, but they still can intervene if called upon."

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Earlier Monday the PM took questions from reporters on the election frenzy that built up before his weekend announcement that there would be no mid-term poll.

"I will not put blame on anybody else," he told reporters on Monday at a news briefing. "Anything that happens in Downing Street is the direct responsibility of me and I will always take that full responsibility myself."

Brown said he considered holding a snap election but said he wanted "more time to set out my vision for the future of the country."

The PM said his "first instinct" was always that he needed more time to show voters how he was governing the country before going to the polls.

Following his announcement on Saturday that he would not go to the country this year, Cameron attacked Brown's decision as a poor choice following weeks of "dithering."

"We have not seen courage at all. We have seen weakness and indecision," he said.

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Building on the no-nonsense reputation he established as Blair's finance minister, Brown has enjoyed early praise for his handling of a major terror attack, an animal disease outbreak, disastrous floods and a banking crisis.

But data from one of the UK's main polling organizations indicated Brown could lose the majority his party currently enjoys in parliament if an election were held in November. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

All About Britain's Labour PartyUnited KingdomGordon BrownDavid Cameron

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