Hutton promises 'change' in UK's Iraq role

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Indy Politics

The Defence Secretary, John Hutton, indicated a "fundamental change" in Britain's role in Iraq early next year as he made his first visit to Baghdad. He had talks yesterday with the Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki then met the small number of UK forces stationed in the Iraqi capital.

Mr Hutton, the former secretary of state for business until he was promoted two weeks ago, said "significant progress" had been made in Iraq in recent months and security was improving across the country. "We want, in the first months of next year, to see a fundamental change in our military mission in Iraq, moving towards an increased focus on military training and education as part of a broad-based bilateral partnership. We agreed to work together intensively to put in place, by the end of this year, a formal agreement in relation to the status of UK forces in Iraq which will underpin this change."

The Defence Secretary spoke to members of the 2nd Battalion The Royal Anglian Regiment and other UK service personnel in the Baghdad Support Unit. Most of Britain's 4,000-strong deployment is in Basra, in the south, where Mr Hutton is heading. He said: "I wanted to take the opportunity to see what our people – civilian and military – are achieving out here and to get a clear sense of the UK's engagement with Iraq, current and future. Throughout the country, security and prospects are improving and I am extremely proud of what our forces have achieved; they continue to do a tremendous job."

On the Prime Minister's most recent visit to Iraq, in July, he told troops they were bringing the UK's work in the country to its conclusion.