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UK ends combat operations in Iraq

BRITISH troops ended six years of combat operations in Iraq yesterday, beginning to withdraw from the southern city of Basra after a bloody and costly mission that was deeply unpopular at home.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown praised his military's accomplishments and sacrifices, speaking after meeting with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki at Brown's Downing Street office in London.

"Today marks the closing chapter of the combat mission in Iraq," Brown said, adding that Britain's remaining 3,700 troops had begun to leave their base on the outskirts of Basra.

Since the 2003 United States-led invasion, 179 British service personnel have been killed in Iraq. In Basra, the British military held a ceremony to honor those who died - reading aloud the names of all of those killed.

"They will always be remembered for the service they have given. Our country owes them a huge debt of gratitude," Brown said.

Brown, who supported predecessor Tony Blair's decision to join the invasion, defended Britain's military mission, saying it had helped to bring new opportunities for Iraq's people.

"Today Iraq is a success story. We owe much of that to the efforts of British troops. Our mission has not always been an easy one, many have said that we would fail," he told reporters.

Al-Maliki and other Iraqi ministers, including Oil Minister Hussain al-Shahristani, were in London to attend an investment conference with about 250 companies, including Royal Dutch Shell PLC and Rolls Royce.

The Iraqi leader said it was vital to persuade foreign companies that Iraq is now a safe place to do business.

"Yes, there are people in Iraq who want the government to fail, but our army and security forces are ready and qualified to face the challenges," al-Maliki said, speaking through a translator.

He said the arrival of foreign businesses, and with them new jobs, would likely support efforts to maintain peace. "We have the environment for businessmen to come to Iraq," al-Maliki said.


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