Page last updated at 17:44 GMT, Saturday, 19 July 2008 18:44 UK

Brown stays positive in Basra heat

By James Landale
Chief political correspondent, BBC News Channel, in Basra

Gordon Brown meets troops in Basra
Gordon Brown meets British troops stationed in Basra in Iraq

Never let it be said that Gordon Brown does things the easy way.

When Tony Blair led the country, prime ministerial trips to Iraq were largely pre-Christmas affairs, as much to rally morale as to find out what was happening on the ground.

In other words, they took place in winter when the weather was bearable.

But no, that is not the current prime minister's way.

He chose the height of summer - with temperatures touching 50C - to fly into Baghdad and then move on to visit British troops stationed in Basra.

Never has such a bedraggled, sweaty, washed-out bunch of journalists and officials traipsed in the wake of a prime minister.

Positive outlook

Mr Brown's message today was upbeat. Progress is being made, he insisted.

Where once the British troops in Basra faced a mortar attack six times a day, now it is just once every six days.

The economy in Basra was picking up, the prospects of local elections taking place was looking good and there was hope of progress in transferring Basra airbase to civilian use.

But for all this optimism there was a realistic signal for British forces: do not expect to come home yet.

Yes, the prime minister said, he did want to bring more British troops back but he was going to set no artificial timetable for their withdrawal.

The reason why?

Well, their job is not yet done.

The prime minister said it would be only when the Iraqi forces could operate truly independently that Britain could finally start bringing some of its troops home.

And that could still be some months if not years.

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