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IN THE NEWS - Britain to Withdraw 1,600 Troops in Iraq, and More May Follow

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This is IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair announced this week that one thousand six hundred British troops will leave Iraq in the coming months.

Britain has more than seven thousand troops in Iraq. The forces to be withdrawn are in the Basra area in the south. Most of those remaining will be located at Basra air base. Their tasks will include training and supporting Iraqi forces and securing the border with Iran.

Mister Blair said the withdrawal was possible because of the increased readiness of Iraqi forces to take control. He said he hopes to reduce British troops levels to below five thousand later this year. He says British forces will stay in Iraq into two thousand eight as long as they are wanted and have a job to do.

Tony Blair has said he will leave office by September after ten years as prime minister. The Labor Party leader has lost popularity and has decided not to seek a fourth term.

Britain has been the biggest ally of the United States in Iraq. Britain deployed forty thousand troops for the invasion in two thousand three. That number fell to about nine thousand two years ago.

A spokesman for the National Security Council at the White House had this reaction to the announcement:

"President Bush sees this as a sign of success and what is possible for us once we help the Iraqis deal with the sectarian violence in Baghdad."

The British announcement came as the Bush administration is increasing American troop strength in the Baghdad area. The president recently announced an increase of more than twenty thousand troops in Iraq, raising the number above one hundred fifty thousand.

Baghdad remains the center of violence between Shiite and Sunni Muslims. Mister Blair said the situation in the capital cannot be compared to Basra, a Shiite city where attacks are aimed largely at coalition forces.

In addition to the British, about four hundred sixty Danish soldiers under British command in southern Iraq will be withdrawn by August. And Lithuania says it is considering withdrawing its fifty-three troops in southern Iraq.

Britain will remain the second largest foreign military presence in Iraq. South Korea is third. South Korea has deployed more than two thousand troops in the Kurdish-controlled north. But it plans to withdraw half of them soon.

Others with hundreds of troops in Iraq include Georgia, Poland, Romania, Australia and El Salvador. Countries that have already withdrawn include Italy, Spain, Ukraine, Japan and New Zealand.

Vice President Dick Cheney said this week in Japan that terrorists would see it as weakness if American troops left Iraq too soon. Sixty-three percent of Americans in a recent opinion study said they support a withdrawal by two thousand nine.

On Friday, British media reported that Britain is about to announce an additional one thousand troops for Afghanistan. Taleban forces are expected to launch a spring offensive.

And that's IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English, written by Brianna Blake. I'm Steve Ember.

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