LONDON – Hundreds of British soldiers arrived at their base near Baghdad in a deployment aimed at provide cover for U.S. troops considering a new assault on Iraqi insurgents, the Ministry of Defense said Friday.
Troops from the Black Watch regiment (search) were west of Mahmoudiya, about 15 miles south of Baghdad, Sky News television reported.
The ministry would not confirm the exact location of the base.
"We can confirm they have arrived at their destination," a spokeswoman said on customary condition of anonymity.
The British Broadcasting Corp. said the base was in a relatively unpopulated area away from the dangerous Sunni towns that have seen many attacks on U.S. and allied forces.
The decision to agree to the U.S. request for redeployment is a politically sensitive one for Prime Minister Tony Blair (search), whose popularity has plummeted because of his support for the Iraq war. Some Britons have expressed concern that the troops will be in greater danger in a region that has seen far more violence than their base in the southern region of Basra.
A small group from the Black Watch arrived at the base by road Thursday. The rest of the 850-strong battle group was flown from Basra to avoid the dangerous road trip.
The bulk of Britain's 8,500 troops in Iraq — the second-largest foreign contingent, after the United States — are based around the port city of Basra (search). Sixty-eight British soldiers have been killed in Iraq.
The American military wants the British to assume security responsibility in areas close to Baghdad so U.S. Marines and soldiers can be shifted to insurgency strongholds west of the capital, including Fallujah (search).
Black Watch soldiers have been told by their commanders that their deployment will be for a maximum of 30 days. Officials have refused to say which, if any, regiment might replace them.
Some soldiers were angry at the handling of their sudden deployment.
"I'm nervous and angry," said Pvt. Manny Lynch, 19, according to a pool report from the Daily Express newspaper made available to the British media. "I was supposed to be going home last Monday and I only found out that I was being deployed four days before."