BBC: Britain to Announce Full Withdrawal of Troops From Iraq

Britain's Defense Ministry said Tuesday that no final decision is imminent on withdrawing all remaining British troops from Iraq, as the BBC reported that the government would outline pullout plans by the end of the year.

The British Broadcasting Corp. reported that Cabinet ministers plan to announce within months a final pullout of troops, provided a lull in violence holds.

Britain has 4,000 troops remaining in Iraq at a base on the outskirts of the southern city of Basra.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown's office said he will discuss the U.K.'s role in Iraq with U.S. President George W. Bush during talks in London on Sunday.

But a spokesman for Brown said there are no plans to announce Britain's exit from Iraq.

"No decisions have been made about future troop levels," Britain's Defense Ministry said in a statement on Tuesday.

"To suggest that decisions have been made is pure speculation. It remains our clear direction of travel and our plan to reduce our force levels, as and when conditions allow," it said.

British forces withdrew from their base in Basra's city center last year and began to focus only on training Iraqi troops and police.

But U.K. troops did aid Iraqi and U.S. forces in late March during their crackdown on Shiite militiamen in largely successful sweeps to curb violence in the oil-rich city.

Defense Secretary Des Browne visited Basra last month and said it was a city transformed, claiming the region is now largely peaceful. However, a rocket attack Sunday on Britain's base at Basra airport broke a monthlong suspension of violence.

Browne in March postponed plans to withdraw 1,500 troops amid the upsurge in violence surrounding the U.S.-Iraqi operation and said in April that withdrawals were unlikely.

But the BBC reported that Browne is likely to announce the exit of some troops before Britain's Parliament breaks for a summer recess on July 22. It reported that a final announcement on withdrawing all forces will be made by the end of 2008.

British military and government officials have previously said it is possible that all U.K. forces would be withdrawn from Iraq in 2009. The comments were made before the spike in violence in March.

Britain's Defense Ministry acknowledged that Iraqi military and police had made good progress, but said current recruits are several months from being fully operational.

"There is still a significant job to be done to complete their training," the ministry's statement said.