Plans to cut UK troops in Iraq put on hold

The defence secretary, Des Browne, today announced to parliament that the planned cuts in British troops in Iraq would be delayed.

In a Commons statement, the defence secretary said the decision was due to the recent surge in fighting in Basra based on military advice.

“It is prudent to pause reductions while the current situation is unfolding,” he said. “For this reason we will keep our forces at current levels.”

Last week, British troops were called in to support Iraqi ground forces in quelling a Shia insurgency in Iraq’s second city, which have scuppered government plans to bring home 1,600 troops this spring.

The 4,100-strong British force, currently stationed at an air base on the outskirts of Basra, has been providing the Iraqi government with medical care, logistics and air support in the battle against Shia Muslim militias.

The prime minister, Gordon Brown, said at his monthly Downing Street press conference earlier today that the government would review the situation, taking into consideration the recent clashes between Iraqi forces and Shia militias.

“We will make any further decisions on the basis of military advice on the ground and our assessment of what conditions are on the ground,” he said.

Earlier, the Tory leader, David Cameron, told Sky News it would be “a matter of regret” if promised troop reductions did not take place, but added: “It wouldn’t be right for me to rush to judgment.”

Elizabeth Stewart and agencies