On Thursday, UK Foreign Minister Jack Straw said the deployment of more British troops in Iraq was under close review.

"And I am sure - and I know that both (Defence Secretary) Geoff Hoon and the chief of the defence staff (General Michael Walker) are constantly making judgements about whether force numbers are adequate," he told BBC radio.

"Both of them have made clear that if they think that these forces need to be reinforced then they will be. The same I believe is true of the United States," he said.

Straw is currently in the United States and is due to meet US Secretary of State Colin Powell for talks on the situation in Iraq.

Resistance fighters drove a tank
lorry into the Italian military base

Month of resistance

Eighteen Italians and nine Iraqis were killed in a bombing at an Italian military base in the southern Iraqi city of al-Nasriya on Wednesday, following an unprecedented surge in attacks that had already left around 40 US soldiers dead since the beginning of the month.

Earlier, Prime Minister Tony Blair's spokesman denied there was any strategy by Britain to pull out of Iraq, where it has some 10,000 troops in the south of the country.

"There's been a lot of chat about the phrase exit strategy. Our exit strategy is exactly the same today as it was on day one. That is, namely, a free and prosperous Iraq. We will stay until the job is done," he said.

Straw also said the British government, the closest US ally in the war on Iraq and the subsequent occupation, was also significantly increasing the capacity of the Iraqi secret services.

"What is certainly being looked at is how we are able to transfer more authority to the Iraqi people more swiftly," he added.