Iraqi PM: British troops should leave
British troops should leave Iraq because they are no longer needed to maintain security in the south of the country, the Iraqi prime minister has said.
Nouri Maliki said it was time for British combat forces to go home, though there might still be a need for their experience in training Iraqi forces and on some technological issues.
In an interview with The Times, Mr Maliki said the relationship between the two countries should now be focused on improving business, scientific and educational links.
"We thank them for the role they have played, but I think that their stay is not necessary for maintaining security and control," he said.
Mr Maliki attacked Britain's decision last year to move forces from their base at a palace in Basra to an airport on the edge of the city, saying it had been very premature.
He said: "They stayed away from the confrontation, which gave the gangs and militias the chance to control the city.
"The situation deteriorated so badly that corrupted youths were carrying swords and cutting the throats of women and children. The citizens of Basra called out for our help . . . and we moved to regain the city."
However, insisting that the "page had been turned", Mr Maliki said: "The Iraqi arena is open for British companies and British friendship, for economic exchange and positive cooperation in science and education."
Prime Minister Gordon Brown has signalled his intention to cut troop numbers in Iraq next year, with a shift towards a more diplomatic role for Britain.
Christopher Prentice, British Ambassador in Iraq, told the newspaper: "It will be good to move out of the artificial relationship in which military aspects had prominence and into a more natural partnership. We fully intend to develop a broad-based relationship with the whole of Iraq. I hope that we will see that happen in the course of next year."