Britain could hand over control of the province of Basra to the Iraqi government as early as next spring. Britain’s Foreign Minister Margaret Beckett made the announcement to Parliament. “Progress of our current operation in Basra gives us confidence that we may be able to achieve transition in that province too at some point next spring. So there is a clear forward perspective notwithstanding the very obvious difficulties that Iraq faces and it continues to demand our wholehearted attention and our unwavering support,” she said.
Britain has around 7,200 troops in southern Iraq, most of them in and around Basra. The whole issue of Britain’s involvement in Iraq has been an increasingly thorny problem for Britain’s Labour government and its leader Tony Blair, with dissention coming even from within Labour’s own ranks. The city of Basra, Iraq’s second largest, is known to be highly dangerous with Iraqi factions battling each other for control. British troops often find themselves in the middle. Basra will be the third province Britain has returned to Iraqi control.