Key meetings

After meeting al-Maliki, the prime minister said: "I believe that by the end of the year the British forces that have been 5,500 can be reduced to 4,500 and that by the end of the year, we mean by Christmas, 1,000 of our troops brought back to the UK and to other purposes."

About 500 British soldiers withdrew from a palace in the city of Basra to a vast airbase on its outskirts in early September.

That pullout ended the British military presence in the city, where troops had been stationed since the US-led invasion in 2003.

The decision by Tony Blair, Brown's predecessor, to join the invasion of Iraq in 2003 was deeply unpopular in Britain and with his ruling Labour party.

Brown, left, met the Iraqi prime minister
in the Green Zone [AFP]
Since taking over in June, Brown has sought to draw a line under Blair's rule and there has been growing speculation he wants to pull more troops from Iraq, perhaps as a precursor to calling a snap general election.

Political reconciliation

In addition to al-Maliki, Brown is also due to meet Tareq al-Hashemi, Iraq's vice-president and Barham Salih, deputy prime minister.

David Miliband, the British foreign secretary, acknowledged last week that Britain's role in Iraq had scarred the government and divided the country and said the party now had to focus on the future.

Economic development will be a big theme in Brown's visit to Iraq and the prime minister will want an update on the process of political reconciliation, the British official said.

Transferring responsibility for the Basra province to Iraqi authorities by the end of the year will comple the handover of power in all four southern provinces for which Britain was once responsible.