UK troops will still be in Iraq in 2005 - Hoon

 

Britain's defence secretary Mr Geoff Hoon said today British troops would still be in Iraq in a year, but their role would have changed from occupation to support for an Iraqi transitional government.

Britain, the United States' chief ally in the March invasion of Iraq, has some 11,000 troops stationed largely in the south of the country. About 20 have been killed in combat in the operation which has stirred controversy at home.

Mr Hoon said he was confident about plans to hand over power to an Iraqi transitional government by the end of June. Asked by BBC radio what role British troops would be playing this time next year, Mr Hoon said: "I'm sure we will still be there assisting Iraqis in providing security. "But instead of in a sense being legally an occupying power we will be there in support of a transitional government, assisting that government on the way, we hope, towards democracy."

The United States, which has born the brunt of anti-coalition attacks, with 212 killed since major combat was declared over on May 1, has about 123,000 troops in Iraq. It plans a massive rotation between January and May to replace weary servicemen with 110,000 fresh soldiers and marines.