Also on Thursday, the UK defence ministry confirmed that Britain's Prince Harry, who is third in line to the British throne, is to be deployed to southern Iraq.

 

A ministry spokesman confirmed the prince would be sent to Iraq with the Blues and Royals regiment "over the next few months".

 

Attacks on troops

Two British military bases in Basra were bombarded with missiles in the past 24 hours, an Iraqi security source said Thursday.

The two British bases, located in central Basra and in the city's Shat al-Arab hotel, were bombed on Wednesday night and early Thursday morning, the source added.

No details of causalities were immediately available.

"They were occupiers and they should have left long ago"

Nour Abdul-Muttalib, teacher
 

Salam al-Maliki, a senior official in the bloc loyal to radical young cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, which has long opposed a foreign presence in Iraq, said violence in the city would cease once the foreign troops have left.

   

"The militias and militant groups in these areas only fired their weapons at the occupier and when they go, all of the violence here will end," he said.

 

Britain announced on Wednesday that it will withdraw around 1,600 troops from Iraq over the coming months and aims to further cut its 7,100-strong contingent by late summer if local forces can secure the southern part of the country.

 

British troops will remain in Iraq until at least 2008 and work to secure the Iran-Iraq border and maintain supply routes to US and coalition troops in central Iraq, Tony Blair, the British prime minister said during his announcement.

 

Romania, however, also announced on Thursday, that it would keep all of its 605 troops in Iraq for at least the next few months.

 

Sorin Frunzaverde, the Defence Minister, said: "Events (in Iraq) are generating missions for our troops there ... so in the next few months we don't plan to reduce our military presence."

Withdrawal welcomed

 

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Many in Basra, Iraq's second city and main centre for oil production, expressed relief at the planned British withdrawal but some voiced fears it was premature.

   

"They were occupiers and they should have left long ago," said Nour Abdul-Muttalib, a 29-year-old teacher, "they are not welcome in this city."

   

Jaafar Saleem, a 38-year-old businessman in the city, said: "I think their exit will produce lawlessness in the city."