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U.K. delays troop withdrawal from Iraq

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The U.K. will postpone a troop withdrawal from Iraq announced late last year due to recent fighting in Basra, the British defense secretary told the House of Commons on Tuesday.
LONDON, April 1 (RIA Novosti) - The U.K. will postpone a troop withdrawal from Iraq announced late last year due to recent fighting in Basra, the British defense secretary told the House of Commons on Tuesday.

The U.K. had planned to reduce its number of troops deployed in Iraq from 4,000 to 2,500 starting this spring. However, Des Browne said that, "At this stage we intend to keep our forces at their current levels of around 4,000 as we work with our coalition partners and with the Iraqis to assess future requirements."

At the weekend, British soldiers took part in fighting between Iraqi forces and Shiite militia in Basra in south Iraq. Basra was seized by British forces in 2003. They then pulled out from the city to the airport last fall, and in December they handed over security to Iraqi forces.

"In the light of the last week's events ... it is prudent that we pause any further reductions while the current situation is unfolding," Browne said.

The decision, widely criticized in the U.K., followed U.S. statements that NATO allies should take a more active part in the Iraqi campaign. Around 4,000 American soldiers, and up to 90,000 Iraqi civilians (according to Iraq Body Count) have died in Iraq since the invasion of the country by U.S.-led forces in 2003.

176 British soldiers so far have died in Iraq.

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