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U.K. General Says Troops Meet Conditions For Iraq Withdrawal

Some 4,000 British troops remain in Iraq
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- British troops in Iraq have largely met the conditions required for their withdrawal and are on track to begin leaving the country by May 31, a top British commander has said.

Major General Andy Salmon, commander of coalition forces in southeastern Iraq, said the holding of peaceful provincial elections on January 31 met the latest of Prime Minister Gordon Brown's conditions for withdrawing Britain's 4,000 troops from Iraq by the end of July.

"In the main, we've completely met the conditions," Salmon told Pentagon reporters via video link from Al-Basrah. "With that in mind, then, we will see British troops start to transition. They will finish the mission by May 31 and British troops will be out of Iraq by July 31."

Two other goals set by Brown were the transfer of Al-Basrah's international airport to Iraqi control, which occurred earlier this month, and the rejuvenation of the region's economy.

Salmon said the elections showed that Iraqi forces are capable of tackling any political violence that might erupt as newly elected provincial council members select new regional governors by the end of March.

He also said the violence has fallen to levels not seen since the start of the war, which has encouraged investment interest.

In recent days, regional business leaders have received 17 firm offers of outside investment interest for projects worth $12.8 billion. Potential investors include British drug maker GlaxoSmithKline and oil giant Shell, Salmon said.