US plea to Britain: 'Don't abandon main Iraq base'

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Indy Politics

The US is urging Britain to reconsider plans to close its main base in southern Iraq.

Since the 2003 invasion, the largest part of Britain's 7,100-strong force has been stationed at the Shaibah logistics base, in the desert south of Basra. The base is due to be closed within weeks as Britain prepares to slim down its Iraq commitment, with the main centre of operations bring transferred to Basra air station, on the outskirts of the city.

The Foreign Secretary, Margaret Beckett, said last week that Britain would be in a position to hand over security in Basra, the last province where it retains formal control, to the Iraqis "at some point this spring". This heightened expectations that Britain would cut its forces by up to 3,000 before the summer.

But the US ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, has publicly urged Britain to maintain its forces in Iraq at their present level.

Behind the scenes, the US is pressing for Shaibah to be kept open, amid concern that the strategic supply route from Kuwait into southern Iraq might become vulnerable.