The British PM has paid a surprise visit to Baghdad to discuss future relations with Britain as Iraq drafts a law for the withdrawal of British troops.
Brown in Iraq for exit talks
BAGHDAD // The British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has arrived in Baghdad, a day after the Iraqi cabinet drafted a law paving the way for British forces to withdraw, more than six years after the US-led invasion. Mr Brown's fourth trip to Iraq as prime minister came on the heels of a visit by US President George W Bush, who had to dodge flying shoes thrown at him by an Iraqi journalist in a sign of the outrage many Iraqis feel over the sectarian slaughter unleashed by the invasion. Mr Brown met with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and other officials to discuss future relations with Britain, the United States' main partner in the war and Iraq's former colonial power. "The role played by the UK combat forces is drawing to a close. These forces will have completed their tasks in the first half of 2009 and will then leave Iraq," Mr Brown and Mr Maliki said in a joint statement. "But the partnership between the two countries will continue to take on new dimensions." The law setting out the terms for the withdrawal of Britain's 4,100 troops also covers the lingering presence of Australian, Estonian, Romanian, Salvadoran and Nato troops, and must be approved by the Iraqi parliament. It sets the end of May as the final date for combat operations and end-July as the withdrawal date. "We are very satisfied with what we have seen in the agreement and we expect that the Iraqi parliament will approve it very soon," said a senior British official who asked not to be identified. British officials say they do not expect to have more than a handful of troops left in Iraq, carrying out some training exercises, after the formal withdrawal. The draft law is akin to a "status of forces" agreement which Iraq signed with the US and which was approved by the Iraqi parliament only after fierce debate. * Reuters