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Date for Basra handover

LONDON, Dec 12 (KUNA) -- British forces will hand over Basra province to Iraqi control this Sunday, 16 December, their spokesman in the country confirmed Wednesday.
Major Mike Shearer told BBC radio the announcement of the date by the Iraqi authorities was "a very positive step in the right direction".
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said when he visited Basra last weekend that the transfer of the final province under UK control would happen within two weeks.
It paves the way for the remaining 4,500 British troops to focus on training local forces before UK numbers dwindle to 2,500 from the Spring.
Major Shearer said "We absolutely welcome the announcement that we are going to move to Iraqi provincial control on the 16th".
"That is a very positive step in the right direction and clear recognition that the security situation is such that the Iraqi security forces are able to take on that responsibility".
The announcement of the date came as a series of car bombs exploded in the southern city of Amarah, killing at least 26 people.
Amarah is in the usually quiet Maysan province which was handed over by British forces to domestic security control last April.
Major Shearer said "I am absolutely confident ... that the Iraqi security forces here in Basra are ready to take on responsibility for policing their own streets".
Brown hailed a 90 percent reduction in violence in Basra in recent months in the House of Commons today, shortly before the announcement.
"So, instead of the British forces having to engage in a combat role, we will be, over time, engaged in a training role supporting the Iraqi forces", he told MPs.
"Over these last few months 50,000 people have been trained up as both police and security forces", Brown added. (end) he.tg KUNA 121807 Dec 07NNNN