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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Blair Announces Iraq Troop Cut

LONDON -- Britain will withdraw around 1,600 troops from Iraq over the coming months and aims to cut its 7,100 troop levels to below 5,000 by late summer -- if local forces can secure the southern part of the country, Prime Minister Tony Blair said Wednesday.

British troops will remain in Iraq until at least 2008 and work to secure the Iran-Iraq border and maintain supply routes to U.S. and coalition troops in central Iraq, Blair told the House of Commons.

"The actual reduction in forces will be from the present 7,100 -- itself down from over 9,000 two years ago and 40,000 at the time of the conflict -- to roughly 5,500," Blair said. He told lawmakers that "increasingly, our role will be support and training, and our numbers will be able to reduce accordingly."

Blair said Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki had agreed to the plan.

Dependent on Iraqi capability, Britain would draw down further, "possibly to below 5,000" once a base at Basra Palace was transferred to Iraqi control in late summer, Blair said. "What all of this means is not that Basra is how we want it to be. But it does mean that the next chapter in Basra's history can be written by Iraqis," Blair said.

Denmark also announced on Wednesday that it would withdraw its 460-strong contingent from southern Iraq by August.

Blair said "the situation in Basra is very different from Baghdad -- there is no Sunni insurgency, no al-Qaida base, little Sunni-on-Shia violence," adding that the southern city is nothing like "the challenge of Baghdad."

The Iraqi capital had suffered from an "orgy of terrorism unleashed upon it in order to crush any possibility of it functioning," he said.

U.S. President George W. Bush and Blair talked by secure video link Tuesday morning about the proposals, U.S. National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe said.

Bush views Britain's troop cutbacks as "a sign of success" in Iraq, he said.

"While the United Kingdom is maintaining a robust force in southern Iraq, we're pleased that conditions in Basra have improved sufficiently that they are able to transition more control to the Iraqis," Johndroe said.