"We will deploy those numbers of troops that are required given the situation. If it is necessary to put a few extra troops in to provide appropriate security for the elections we will do that," Hoon said on Friday on the sidelines of a meeting of EU defence ministers.

Months of violence in Iraq prompted UN Secretary General Kofi Annan to question whether elections could be held in January, as planned by Iraq's interim government and its US backers. 

"We are still absolutely determined that elections should take place," Hoon said. 

Security

"There is a sense in which security is crucial to holding elections, but there is also the other side of it, which is that holding elections may well prove crucial to security," he said. 

 

 

The 8500 British troops currently
in Iraq are deployed in the south

The US army has about 138,000 soldiers in Iraq compared with about 8500 British troops. 

"We have always made it clear that we will adjust the number and nature of our troops in Iraq in the light of military advice, according to the security situation on the ground," Hoon said. 

"We've from time to time increased the number and then reduced the numbers precisely arising out of the kinds of reviews regularly conducted by the officer in charge, and nothing will change about that," he said.  


Iraq training mission 
 
Meanwhile, agreement on expanding a NATO training mission in Iraq remained blocked on Friday, with several countries still expressing reservations, NATO chief Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said. 

France has objected to missions
under NATO's command in Iraq

But he said he hoped a compromise accord could be reached to expand the mission, which has notably faced French resistance over its precise command structure. 

France, Spain and Belgium were among countries still not satisfied, according to diplomats. 

"As it stands now, not all 26 allies are completely happy," de Hoop Scheffer said on the sidelines of a meeting of EU defence ministers.

"But I'm very optimistic we can reach an agreement very soon on the remaining points." 

Downplay

But he sought to downplay the remaining differences. "I think it will not be on too many substantial issues. We're still discussing financing, force protection," he said. 

"I'm very optimistic we can reach an agreement very soon on the remaining points" 

Jaap de Hoop Scheffer,
NATO Secretary-General

North Atlantic Treaty Organisation leaders agreed at a summit in Istanbul in June to launch the training mission after overcoming reservations from Paris which objected to operations under a NATO flag inside Iraq. 

NATO already has 40 soldiers in Iraq, who have begun training army officers in collaboration with the Defence Ministry in Baghdad. The issue of the command structure led to a stormy debate in July, notably between the US and France.