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British soldier patrolling in southern city of Al-Basrah (file photo) (epa)
February 22, 2007 -- The Iraqi government said today it is ready to take over security responsibilities in southern Iraq as British troops withdraw, but said Iraqi forces will still depend on the remaining British troops for support.
Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's office made the statement a day after Britain announced it will reduce its troop levels in Iraq from 7,100 to 5,500 in the coming months.
Al-Maliki's office said the British decision was made in cooperation with Iraqi leaders, and was in line with Iraqi government plans to take over security in Basra province.
Following the British announcement on troop withdrawals, the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush said the decision indicates progress in the security situation in Iraq.
Meanwhile, Democratic Party lawmakers who control the U.S. Congress urged Bush to emulate the British plan and start withdrawing troops from Iraq.
In other news, U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney is due in Australia today for talks with Prime Minister John Howard expected to focus on Iraq.
Howard said on February 21 he would not follow Britain's announcement of troop withdrawals from Iraq with a timetable for an Australian withdrawal, and said Australia may even increase its deployments.
After a visit to Japan -- another U.S. ally on Iraq policy -- Cheney welcomed the British decision, saying it indicates that security is returning to parts of Iraq.