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British troops to leave Iraq in first half 2009
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Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al- Maliki and his visiting British counterpart said that the British troops will end its mission in Iraq in the first half of next year, a joint statement said.

"The British combat forces will complete their tasks in southern Iraq in the first half of 2009," according to a statement issued by the two leaders after a meeting in Maliki's office tackled the fate of the British troops in southern the country.

Earlier in the day, Britain's Prime Minister Gordon Brown paid a surprise visit o Baghdad, which is his fourth visit since he took office last year.

"The partnership between the two coutries will continue to include new dimensions and will be empowered by cooperation in all fields due to the prominent position for UK in the European Union (EU) and UN Security Council," the statement said.

An Iraqi state-run television reported a brief news saying that the British troops will withdraw from Iraq by May 31 next year.

On Tuesday, the Iraqi cabinet approved a draft bill that sets a timetable for withdrawal of the non-U.S. foreign troops from Iraq by five months for combat troops starting from January and seven months for the rest of the troops.

The cabinet draft was mainly to affect the roughly 4,000 British troops in southern Iraq.

Earlier in the month, John Wilkes, British foreign office spokesman told the state-run al-Sabah newspaper that his government was negotiating with its Iraqi counterpart to conclude an agreement similar to the US and Iraqi security pact.

Wilkes stressed that the agreement should be completed before the current United Nations mandate for troops expires by the end of this year.

In July, Brown said that he wanted to cut the number of British troops but ruled out a timetable for their withdrawal.

(Xinhua News Agency December 17, 2008)

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