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UK: Basra pullout was pre-planned

  • Story Highlights
  • UK PM Gordon Brown defends withdrawal of UK troops from Iraqis base
  • Move from Basra Palace consolidates British troops at Basra's airport
  • Brown: Troops can still intervene in the city in "certain circumstances"
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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has dismissed a suggestion that a withdrawal by UK troops from their base in the southern Iraqi city of Basra was a defeat, insisting it was an "organized" move.

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A British army corporal lowers the Union Flag during a ceremony in Basra on Monday.

Brown, speaking as 500 British troops completed their withdrawal from Basra Palace, said Monday troops would still be able to intervene in the city in "certain circumstances."

Asked if the move was a "pull-out in defeat ... a retreat," Brown told the BBC: "Let me make this very clear. This is a pre-planned, and this is an organized move from Basra Palace to Basra Air Station."

The move consolidates most of Britain's 5,500-strong force at Basra airport, which has been hit daily by mortar attacks.

The move does not represent a major shift nor does it represent a pullout, the British Ministry of Defence said.

A British military spokesman in Basra said there were no major incidents during the withdrawal, although a British vehicle was damaged and two soldiers suffered non-serious wounds in an attack.

People in Basra cheered the British departure. The pullout happened at a "snail's pace" as the convoy checked for roadside explosives, Tom Newton Dunn, Defence Editor for The Sun and the only British journalist with UK forces in the area, told Sky News.

Iraqi Army Lt. General Mohan, commander of operations in Basra, said he had told Shiite militants who have been fighting the British troops that Iraqis were now in charge of the Basra palace.

He said the militants "have behaved except for some simple violations."

Basra will be the last of four provinces in southern Iraq that Britain has handed over to Iraqi control. The other three were Muthanna, Maysan and Dhi Qar.

British forces will remain in Basra to train and supervise Iraqi forces.

The withdrawal from the southern Iraqi city is part of a plan announced in February by then-Prime Minister Tony Blair, British Embassy spokeswoman Rosie Tapper told CNN.

During their time in Basra, British forces have helped the Iraqis take more responsibility for governing Basra, she said.

Previously, the British had handed over two other bases to the Iraqis. The palace was the third.

CNN correspondent Michael Ware said he believed the move would have little effect on Basra's security.

"The Brits have had no control for years," he said from Baghdad. "From the moment the British forces were deployed in the south, they didn't have enough troops.

"If you really want to change the underlying dynamic of the south, you must be ready to challenge Iran. They were not able, and did not have a public mandate, to do so.

"The British presence has been merely token. As British military intelligence officers told me two years ago, all they are doing there is trying to stay alive."

The withdrawal from Basra comes at the same time retired Major General Tim Cross, the most senior British officer involved in postwar planning, criticized former U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in a British newspaper for dismissing warnings that Iraq could fall into chaos.

"Right from the very beginning we were all very concerned about the lack of detail that had gone into the postwar plan, and there is no doubt that Rumsfeld was at the heart of that process," Cross said in the Sunday Mirror.

Cross' comment came on the heels of similar published remarks by retired British General Mike Jackson, the head of the British Army during the invasion, who said U.S. policy was "intellectually bankrupt."

The statements draw attention to perceived tensions between the U.S. and the British command over strategy in Iraq. Video Watch what the pullback says about Britain's future in Iraq »

But a U.S. official in Iraq seemed to take them in his stride.

"There can be disagreements amongst professionals about certain ways of how you handle strategy and tactics," said Rear Admiral Mark Fox.

The British Ministry of Defence released a statement saying the generals are both "private individuals expressing private views and we respect that. They are entitled to their opinions."

In his interview on Monday, Brown said he was not told of any criticisms of U.S. postwar policy by General Jackson.

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Brown said: "General Jackson is a very brave soldier, I have got great admiration for him. He did not say this to me at the time. This was not part of any discussion that I had.

"What I have said, and I think what Tony Blair also said at the time before he left office, was that this could have been done a lot better and should have been done a lot better." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

CNN's Raja Razek, Daniela Berretta and Jomana Karadsheh contributed to this report

All About Basra

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