Beckett predicts Basra handover by the spring

Britain could complete the handover of southern Iraq to the country's security forces by next spring, Margaret Beckett, the Foreign Secretary, said yesterday.

She expressed "confidence" that officials might be able to transfer security operations in Basra to Iraqi forces within months.

Mrs Beckett outlined the first tentative timetable for the scaling down of British operations in Iraq. It could see British forces completing the handover in their area of operations by the time Tony Blair steps down from No 10 and help to clear the decks for Gordon Brown.

She declared she hoped British forces would be able to hand over the Maysan province to Iraqi security forces in January, with the final handover in Basra coming by the spring. But officials insisted British troops would remain in Iraq even after control was transferred to local personnel.

Her upbeat statement came despite a report from the UN showing that 3,709 Iraqi civilians were killed in October, the highest monthly toll since the US-led invasion three years ago.

The UN Assistance Mission for Iraq report highlighted attacks on journalists, judges and lawyers and the worsening situation of women, violence against religious minorities and the targeting of schools.

The report said: "Hundreds of bodies continued to appear in different areas of Baghdad handcuffed, blindfolded and bearing signs of torture and execution-style killings. Many witnesses said the perpetrators wore militia attire and even police or army uniforms."

Downing Street stressed any handover of control to Iraqi forces in the south of the country would be dependent on conditions on the ground. The Prime Minister's spokesman said the move would have "implications" for British forces, but declined to say whether it would allow soldiers to be pulled out of Iraq.

In the Commons yesterday, Mrs Beckett said the US-administered Najaf province was likely to be the next area transferred to Iraqi control in December.

She added: "In our own area of responsibility we expect Maysan to follow in January and the progress of the current operation in Basra gives us confidence we may be able to achieve transition in that province too at some point next spring.

"There is no question of us cutting and running from Iraq - to do so would be an act of gross irresponsibility, abandoning the Iraqi people to bloodshed perhaps even worse than we see today."

Britain has already handed over the al-Muthanna and Dhi Qar provinces to Iraqi forces and has pulled out of its base in Maysan province to the UK headquarters in Basra.

Sir Menzies Campbell, Liberal Democrat leader, said: "The Government's position remains of having neither a strategy for staying or for going. We are still unduly subject to American influence."

Bob Marshall-Andrews, a Labour critic of the invasion, said: "It is impossible not to draw a conclusion that we are being moved out of Iraq when the Prime Minister is leaving British politics. It is impossible to accept that what was a manifest disaster has suddenly, in the course of three weeks, become a conspicuous success."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
Barn owls are among species that could be affected
charity appeal
News
Sarah Silverman (middle) with sister Reform Rabbi Susan Silverman (right) and sister actress Laura Silverman (left) at Jerusalem's Western Wall for feminist Hanuka candle-lighting ceremony
peopleControversial comedian stages pro-equality Hanukkah lighting during a protest at Jerusalem's Wailing Wall
Arts and Entertainment
The Bach Choir has been crowned the inaugural winner of Sky Arts’ show The Great Culture Quiz
arts + ents140-year-old choir declared winner of Sky Arts' 'The Great Culture Quiz'
Sport
After another poor series in Sri Lanka, Alastair Cook claimed all players go through a lean period
cricketEoin Morgan reportedly to take over ODI captaincy
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas