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Britain Says May Withdraw Iraq Oil Force To Kuwait

British soldiers keep watch as a tank drives near the airport in Basrah in 2007.
BAGHDAD (Reuters) -- British forces remaining in Iraq will withdraw to Kuwait by the end of the month after Iraq's parliament adjourned this week without passing a deal allowing them to stay to help protect oil facilities.

"Unfortunately, owing to procedural delay, the Iraqi parliament has not yet ratified our agreement," said Jawwad Syed, a spokesman for the British Embassy in Baghdad.

"As our existing permissions expire on 31 July, we are withdrawing the Royal Navy trainers to Kuwait while we discuss the position with the Iraqi authorities," he said.

On July 27, parliament adjourned until the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, around September 20, leaving behind a mountain of unpassed legislation, including the Iraqi-British agreement that would allow up to 100 British troops to stay in Iraq beyond a previously agreed withdrawal date.

Under the deal, the British troops would focus on helping Iraqi naval forces protect valuable oil platforms.

Under a separate agreement negotiated last year, Britain was due to pull out its troops by June 30.

Britain, which sent 46,000 troops to the Persian Gulf for the 2003 invasion, had already withdrawn its soldiers to the airport in the southern city of Basra, Iraq's southern oil hub, by 2007.

The holdup in parliament put the status of remaining troops in doubt even after a one-month extension to the June 30 date.

A vote on the new pact was blocked several times in recent weeks by opposition from lawmakers close to leading Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who reject the presence of any foreign troops, and a lack of quorum.

"We must respect the Iraqi processes. We hope that the Iraqi parliament will agree and endorse a legal basis for the assistance the Iraqi government want[s] as soon as is possible," Syed said.

Other lawmakers suggested the Iraqi government might devise another deal that did not require parliamentary approval to allow the British troops to stay without interruption.

"The Iraqi government now must look for another formula to deal with this situation," Ayad al-Samarai, speaker of the Iraqi parliament, told reporters on July 28.

Iraq, which has the world's third-largest oil reserves, is looking to overhaul aging and dilapidated oil facilities, including those around the southern port city of Basra.