(photo credit: AP)
Iraq's prime minister said the 4,100 British troops in southern Iraq are no longer necessary to provide security, a newspaper reported Monday.
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki told The Times of London that there may be a need for a few British troops to remain for training and technical issues. But as a fighting force, al-Maliki said the British were no longer needed.
"Definitely, the presence of this number of British soldiers is no longer necessary. We thank them for the role they have played, but I think that their stay is not necessary for maintaining security and control," al-Maliki said in the interview.
"There might be a need for their expertise in training and some technical issues, yes, but as a fighting force, I do not think it is necessary," he said.
His comments were in line with an August report that most of Britain's contingent in Iraq would be withdrawn over the next nine months, leaving only a few hundred soldiers there.
In July, Prime Minister Gordon Brown promised a major troop withdrawal in the early months of 2009, but Britain's military has said it's premature to discuss specific figures.
Al-Maliki also expressed disappointment with the British performance during last spring's fighting in the southern city of Basra.
"The British forces withdrew from the confrontation from inside the city to the area of the airport," he said. "They stayed away from the confrontation, which gave the gangs and the militias the chance to control the city."
The British military turned over provincial control of Basra to the Iraqi government in late December despite vicious infighting between Shiite factions and widespread militia infiltration of the local security forces. But British troops remained on standby at their airport base outside the city, 340 miles (550 kilometers) southeast of Baghdad.