Britain has 7,200 troops in southern Iraq, mostly stationed in and around Basra.
 
'A process not an event'

The British government however refused to specify when troops would leave Iraq following the handover of Basra to Iraqi forces.

"We are not cutting and running"

British defence ministry spokeswoman

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When asked if British troops could be out of Iraq in a year, a government source told Reuters news agency: "This is a process not an event. Responsibility for different areas is gradually handed over until the point comes when the whole province is handed over."

"After that multinational forces will continue to be available to support the Iraqi authorities if needed."

In Basra Captain Tane Dunlop, the British military spokesman, said the handover would depend largely on the success of Operation Sinbad, due to end in January or February, which aims to retrain the police and improve basic services.

Britain has already handed over two of the four southern provinces - Muthanna and Dhi Qar - that it took responsibility for after the US-led invasion in 2003.

The third, Maysan province, is due to meet the conditions for handover in January.

Danish deployment

Denmark, which has 470 troops under British command in Iraq, has also said it hoped that the Iraqi government could assume control "as quickly as possible".

"We don't yet know if the Iraqis will be able to manage."

Per Stig Moller, Denmark's foreign minister


"But we don't yet know if the Iraqis will be able to manage," Per Stig Moller, the foreign minister, told Danish media.

"We can't begin to make arrangements on a hope. We need reality. The signals are good but they also need to be fulfilled."

Tony Blair, the British prime minister, will travel to Copenhagen next week for talks with Anders Fogh Rasmussen, his Danish counterpart, on the situation in Iraq, the Danish government said on Wednesday.

"The aim of the visit is to discuss the situation in Iraq, as well as European Union and NATO issues," the prime minister's office said in a statement.

The Danish troops' mandate in Iraq is due to end in June 2007 but recent opinion polls have indicated that up to 60 per cent of Danes are opposed to extending the deployment.