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Last Updated: Tuesday, 22 August 2006, 11:33 GMT 12:33 UK
Basra handover 'feasible' in 2007
UK troops in Basra
British troops would retain a presence in the Basra region
Handing over control in Basra to the Iraqis is "feasible" in nine months, a senior British commander has said.

Giving power to the Iraqis would halve the number of UK troops in the region, to between 3,000 and 4,000.

The commander, who would not be named, said the Iraqi army would be ready to take on the job in nine to 12 months.

However, the handover would be reliant on stable security and the support of the Iraq government, and the British would retain a presence in the area.

The commander said it would be a "quite a significantly smaller force than we've got now, but probably in the region of 3,000 to 4,000 people based in a single location".

In terms of the tactical plan and the competence of the Iraqi army, it is perfectly feasible
British forces

And it would retain one or two bases around Basra to "protect our investment".

There are currently 7,200 personnel in the British-controlled south, most in the Basra area.

The commander said a transition to Iraqi control could take place in the first quarter of 2007.

He said a handover would be subject to variety of factors and conditions but was "perfectly feasible" in terms of the tactical plan and the competence of the Iraqi army.

The British have already handed over responsibility for security in al Muthanna - one of the four provinces in their sector of operations.

They are understood to be close to doing the same in Maysan, where it has already been announced that Abu Naji camp, where around 1,000 soldiers of the Queen's Royal Hussars are based, will close in September.

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