Iraq's defense minister said Wednesday his commanders were surprised when Britain recently announced plans to withdraw some of its troops from Iraq, but that his country's forces will be ready to replace them. "I am absolutely confident that Iraq's army is quite ready to meet the challenges, even if the withdrawal becomes quite sudden," Defense Minister Abdul-Qader Mohammed Jassim said at a news conference. On Tuesday, Iraqi forces in southern Iraq replaced British troops at a frequently targeted base in Basra. The British commander, Maj. -Gen. Jonathan Shaw, said the move was part of the plan to shift most security responsibilities to the Iraqis. He said his soldiers would now enter the streets of the oil port city only in exceptional circumstances.