British troops 'will all leave Iraq in 2009' security advisor claims

All British troops will be withdrawn from Iraq by the end of next year, the country's national security adviser claimed yesterday.

Muwafaq al-Rubaie revealed negotiations on a pull-out between London and Baghdad began two weeks ago.

Britain has 4,000 troops in Iraq, mostly based near the southern city of Basra.

All British troops will be withdrawn from Iraq by the end of next year, a senior official has claimed

A phased cutback of combat soldiers was expected next year but it was thought that up to 1,000 who are involved in training Iraqi troops would stay.

But yesterday Mr al-Rubaie said: 'By the end of next year there will be no British troops in Iraq.'

The Ministry of Defence said that 'no timetable' for withdrawal had yet been set and also denied a report that 2,000 more British soldiers are likely to be sent to Afghanistan to meet an expected request from incoming U.S. President Barack Obama.

There are 8,100 British forces in Afghanistan, with the operational thrust in Helmand Province, but military chiefs have warned against sending those troops withdrawn from Iraq to join the Afghan fighting against the Taliban.

Mr Obama is planning to send two more combat brigades to Afghanistan and is expected to call on other Nato allies to beef up their deployments when he takes office in January.

A recent ICM poll for the BBC found that more than two-thirds of the public believe all British troops should be withdrawn from the troubled country in the next year.

Britain currently has some 4,000 troops in Iraq

Reports of the Iraq pull out and possible increase in Afghan numbers came as two Royal Marines killed in Afghanistan on Wednesday were named as Neil Dunstan and Robert McKibben.

The soldiers were from UK Landing Force Command Support Group, working to gather information to improve troops' awareness of the surrounding area and conditions in the Garmsir district of southern Helmand when their vehicle was hit by a massive explosion.

The pair are the first to be killed while using the military's new heavily armoured £600,000 three-man Jackal, which was designed to be mine resistant and is fitted with electronic equipment to detect roadside bombs.  A third Marine was seriously injured.

Their deaths took the British military death toll in Afghanistan and Iraq to 300 - 176 in Iraq and 126 in Afghanistan.

Robert McKibben was one of two Royal Marines killed on Wednesday

Tributes have poured in to the two soldiers, both of who had joined the Marines relatively late, at the age of 27, and had excelled as part of the reconnaissance force in Afghanistan.

Marine Dunstan, 32, from Bournemouth, had been due to marry his fiancee, Katie Miller, in summer 2010.

She paid her own personal tribute, saying simply : 'Neil was so proud to be a Marine and lived each day to the full. He was my soulmate and the love of my life. Neil was very much loved by all the family.'

Lieutenant Colonel Andrew McInerney, Commanding Officer of the Marines, said Dunstan's 'quiet confidence and humility was an inspiration to all those who worked with him.'

He went on: 'A quiet but natural leader, his maturity and intellect made him a valued role model and mentor to the men with whom he served.

'He excelled as a reconnaissance operator, a role he was passionate about and which demanded initiative and guile, qualities for which he was never left wanting. Tough and committed, he was always prepared to go the extra mile for his comrades.'

Marine McKibben, 32, from Westport, Co Mayo, in the west of Ireland had planned to join the Special Forces.

Local priest Micheal Mannion said the soldier's parents,Tony and Grainne O'Malley McKibben, had been expecting him home for a visit before Christmas.

In a statement his parents, brother Raymond and sisters Carmel and Rachel said: 'We are all extremely proud of our Robbie. He had very definite plans of how he wanted to live his life. He was always thoughtful, considerate and had an amazing sense of humour that touched so many lives.

'He was so full of life and was loved so much by his family and by all his friends. Robbie has left a huge void in our hearts and he will never be forgotten.'

Lieut Col McInerney described McKibben as a larger than life character who was 'an immensely capable man' whose 'humility made him an example and inspiration to all he served with.'

He added : 'A true Commando, tough, unassuming and hugely convivial, he viewed life as a glass half-full. Marine McKibben had an indomitable sense of humour in the face of any adversity.

'Regardless of the task or conditions his 'can-do' attitude helped him and others overcome every test they encountered.

'Marine McKibben was a key personality within our tight-knit unit of professional specialists. He was held dear by his colleagues and leaves a great void with his passing.'

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