British troops began to withdraw from central Basra Sunday, a move that signals the end of British military presence in Iraq and America's loss of its largest coalition partner, the New York Times reported Sunday.
Britain will begin transitioning control of Basra Province to Iraqi security forces in the coming months, but with U.S. troops in Baghdad at its highest levels, Britain's roll-back is heightening concerns about the ability of Iraqi forces to take over, especially when the U.S. begins its own military withdrawal, the Times reported.
The move also has significant symbolic implications that present additional challenges in the region. The U.S. and Britain will have to curb fears among some Iraqis that they are being abandoned to terrorists and extremists while dispelling claims that the withdrawal is a victory for insurgents, the Times reported.
Thirty-six British soldiers have been killed in Iraq so far this year, making 2007 the most deadly year for British forces in the country since 2003, according to the Times.