Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen on Monday praised his nation for defending freedom of speech and not yielding to authoritarian forces during the international uproar over the Prophet Muhammad cartoons last year. In his annual's New Year's Day speech, Fogh Rasmussen also said he hoped to start scaling back Denmark's 460 troops in Iraq in 2007. "It made a strong impression on all of us to see the Danish flag being burnt, to see Danish embassies in flames, to hear and see the threats against Denmark and Danes," the prime minister said of the cartoon crisis that erupted nearly a year ago in the Muslim world. "Those were some difficult weeks for Denmark," he said. "But we made it through, not least because we stood together when it mattered." The 12 drawings were first published in September 2005 in Danish daily Jyllands-Posten and reprinted four months later in a range of Western media, triggering massive protests in late January and February from Morocco to Indonesia and in some cases attacks on Danish embassies. Islamic law is interpreted to forbid any depiction of the prophet for fear it could lead to idolatry. Throughout the crisis, the Danish government resisted calls to apologize for the cartoons and said it could not be held responsible for the actions of Denmark's independent media. "Today Denmark enjoys respect because we held our ground, when our fundamental values came under pressure. We protected the freedom of speech which is the most precious freedom that we have," Fogh Rasmussen said in his televised address. Critics said Fogh Rasmussen mishandled the crisis by not condemning the cartoons more forcefully and for declining to meet with Muslim ambassadors who wanted to discuss the issue. Supporters praised him for showing the world that freedom of speech was not negotiable in Denmark. Queen Margrethe also touched on the cartoon crisis in her New Year's speech on Sunday, saying Danes "must understand and make an effort to explain what values our society is based on." The prime minister also said he hopes "2007 will be the year when the Iraqis themselves can take over the responsibility for security in southern Iraq," where Denmark's contingent serves with a larger British force. "As the Iraqis themselves take over the responsibility we can reduce the number of British and Danish soldiers and adjust their tasks," he said. Fogh Rasmussen has earlier hinted at a gradual withdrawal of Danish troops but has not set a date. Britain has said it expects to withdraw thousands of its more than 7,000 military personnel from Iraq by the end of 2007.