Remaining British troops 'to leave Iraq in spring'

Most of the 150 British troops still serving in Iraq are set to be brought home next spring, the military said today.

Iraq's council of ministers agreed on November 10 that a small Royal Navy team training the Iraqi navy and marines should be allowed to stay for another six months, until May 2011.

But the 100 or so UK sailors, based in the port of Umm Qasr in southern Iraq, are expected to be withdrawn after this.

Senior British military spokesman Major General John Lorimer said: "With the additional six months we probably can anticipate that the Royal Navy mission will complete then, having trained the Iraqi navy."

A small number of British servicemen and women will remain in Iraq after May as part of a separate Nato training mission to instruct Iraqi army officers.

Maj Gen Lorimer said it was his understanding that the decision to withdraw the Royal Navy team was not related to the defence cuts introduced after the UK's recent strategic defence and security review.

Umm Qasr, in the far south of Basra Province, is Iraq's only deep water port and receives 80% of the nation's grain supply.

It is also home to the Iraqi navy, which has a key role in protecting the country's two oil terminals out in the Persian Gulf.

The vast majority of British forces were pulled out of Iraq in May 2009.