Prime Minister Gordon Brown announced he was slashing the remaining British contingent in Iraq by nearly 20 percent. A beleaguered Iraqi leader said his own forces would be ready to take up the slack in the country's oil-rich southernmost province in two months.
Brown's one-day, unannounced swing through Iraq on Tuesday came as US military officials are concerned that the reduced British presence in the south could open security gaps along key supply and transit routes to Kuwait.
The roadways are a vital lifeline for US forces. And everything that the Americans cannot fly out of the country when they eventually leave must make the long and potentially dangerous road journey to Kuwait through Basra province.
Brown is said to be contemplating early elections in Britain, where the war is deeply unpopular. He arrived in Baghdad midmorning and went straight into a meeting with his Iraqi counterpart, Nouri al-Maliki.