- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 19, 2008

BAGHDAD (AP) – British Prime Minister Gordon Brown held talks Saturday with Iraqi leaders less than a week after the announcement of expected British troop cuts in southern Iraq.

Brown was greeted in Baghdad’s protected Green Zone by Iraq’s prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, whose office later released a statement saying the meetings “stressed the necessity of establishing a long-term Iraqi-British relationship.”

Brown also met with top Iraqi advisers and President Jalal Talabani. Brown made no public comments.

Basra Gov. Mohammed al-Waili said Brown was expected later Saturday in the southern city – the site of a major Iraqi-led offensive this spring to root out Shiite militias with suspected links to Iran.

The campaign, which began with disarray among Iraqi forces, ultimately gained ground with U.S. help and reclaimed wide control over Iraq’s second-largest city and key oil center. The success has apparently led Britain to reconsider its troop levels.

Britain has about 4,000 soldiers, mostly at an air base outside Basra. Earlier this week, a senior British military officer said substantial troop cuts in Iraq are expected next year. No specific figures have been announced, but Brown is expected to address British lawmakers on Iraq later this month.

The drawdown from Iraq is also motivated by a rise in British troop strength in Afghanistan and concerns about strains in maintaining both forces.

Brown’s stop in Baghdad coincides with preparations for a planned fact-finding visit to Iraq by U.S. presidential candidate Barack Obama, who also has supported sharpening the military focus on the fight against the Taliban and al-Qaida in Afghanistan and border regions of Pakistan.

British troops in Iraq no longer have an active combat role and are involved mainly in training Iraqi soldiers, police and border guards.

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