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British Troops Draw Down in Basra; Shiites Celebrate in Baghdad

British troops are pulling back from Basra, Iraq's second-largest city. Independent Television News reports from the embattled region, and then New York Times reporter Damien Cave provides an update from Baghdad, site of a major Shiite religious festival.

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  • RAY SUAREZ:

    Now, a two-part update on Iraq. First, the situation in Basra in the south; that's where British troops have been based since the invasion, but are now drawing down. We have a report narrated by Carl Dinnen of Independent Television News.

  • CARL DINNEN, ITV News Correspondent:

    Leading aircraftman Martin Beard of one squadron, the Royal Air Force Regiment, was shot dead during a foot patrol on Tuesday. Private Craig Barber, from the Second Battalion, the Royal Welsh, was shot in the driver's seat of his Warrior on Monday. Two more soldiers, yet to be named, were killed by a bomb this morning.

    Little wonder then that there is criticism that British forces are not in control as they prepare to pull out of Basra City. An unnamed U.S. intelligence official told the Washington Post that the British had basically been defeated in southern Iraq, a view rejected by the army.

  • MAJOR MIKE SHEARER, British Army Spokesman:

    You know, from a soldier's point of view, that type of language is quite frustrating, because, to the untrained eye, it can look like that. But, in fact, we have had in the public arena for some time the conditions that we are trying to set that will allow the Iraqi security forces to take over the lead as the security in their own country.

    And, of course, we've always known that the closer we got to setting those conditions that the rogue militia would raise their game in an attempt to make it look like they were pushing us out of the city, which I can absolutely assure you is not the case.

  • CARL DINNEN:

    British-led coalition forces initially controlled four provinces in southern Iraq, al-Muthanna, Dhi Qar, Maysan, and Basra. They have now handed over the three provinces north of Basra, where Iraqi forces are considered strong enough to take over. Basra will follow.

    The Basra palace base in the city itself is expected to close within weeks. Then the British force in Iraq will essentially all be in one place: Basra airport. Although it's a sprawling base — it even has its own bus service — it will be a single target for Iraqi insurgents.

    The Iranians are widely believed to be backing the Shia militias around Iraq. Today, during a visit by the Iraqi prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, the Iranians were trying to deflect that accusation.

  • PARVIZ DAVOODI, First Vice President, Iran (through translator):

    Stability in Iraq depends on two factors: pulling out the alien forces and stopping their interference; and also on the sovereignty and strength of Nouri al-Maliki's democratic government.

  • CARL DINNEN:

    But even if all the Shia militias could be reigned in by Iran, Mr. al-Maliki's government would still face as serious a threat from Sunni insurgents, not to mention Kurdish separatists.

    A hundred and sixty-eight British personnel have now been killed since the invasion of Iraq. And as British forces pull back to Basra airport, many are now coming to the conclusion that they may soon be preparing to leave altogether.