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Last Updated: Wednesday, 12 March 2008, 09:51 GMT
Browne makes surprise Iraq visit
Des Browne
Mr Browne is holding meetings in Basra
UK Defence Secretary Des Browne is visiting the Iraqi city of Basra.

The Ministry of Defence confirmed Mr Browne was on a "general visit" to the country, but declined to say how long he would be there.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown went to the UK base in Basra, in the south of the country, last November.

There are currently about 4,000 UK troops in the area. The Iraqi government took responsibility for Basra province's security in December.

Mr Browne's visit was revealed after the Al Iraqiya station broadcast live footage of him attending a business conference.

'Highly unlikely'

Last October the prime minister said the intention was to reduce the number of UK troops there to 2,500, starting in the spring, subject to military guidance.

But BBC security correspondent Frank Gardner said he had been told it was "highly unlikely" the figure would drop to anything like that amount.

On Monday the Commons defence select committee said the costs of military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq this year were likely to rise 94% to 3.297bn.

This included a 72% rise in spending on Iraq to 1.648bn, despite falls in troop numbers.

The government says the money is needed for force protection.

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