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Page last updated at 07:10 GMT, Tuesday, 21 October 2008 08:10 UK

Hutton hails UK progress in Iraq

Defence Secretary John Hutton meets British troops in Basra
John Hutton replaced Des Browne as defence secretary earlier this month

Defence Secretary John Hutton has met British troops serving in Basra for the first time since taking over the post.

Mr Hutton spent time with members of 4th Battalion, the Royal Regiment of Scotland who are training Iraqi forces.

He also toured markets and met local people in the southern Iraqi city.

After his visit, he said British troops had achieved a "massive progression" in Iraq which could allow "a significant change to our mission" in 2009.

"We want to focus on training and education to get us closer to our aim of passing full control to the Iraqi authorities," Mr Hutton said.

"We are getting closer to achieving this goal and I hope we can reach the point when we can consider a significant change to our mission here next year.

"This massive progression is due to the efforts of every British service personnel and civilian who has served here, and I am hugely proud of what they have achieved."

At the weekend, Mr Hutton visited Baghdad where he met with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and Defence Minister General Abdul Qadir.

After the meeting he announced that Britain and Iraq would begin immediate talks on the future role of UK forces.

And he said the process of reducing personnel numbers from the current 4,100 would start early next year.

While in Baghdad, he also met members of the 2nd Battalion, The Royal Anglian Regiment.

Mr Hutton replaced Des Browne as defence secretary in Gordon Brown's cabinet reshuffle earlier this month.

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