December 30, 2008 / 8:20 PM / 11 years ago

Iraq and UK agree to let troops stay until July

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraq signed agreements with Britain and Australia on Tuesday for their troops to stay in Iraq for seven months after a U.N. mandate authorizing their presence expires on January 1, Iraq’s Defense Ministry said.

Ministry spokesman Mohammed al-Askari said the agreements would take effect on New Year’s Day and would require the two countries’ combat troops to leave Iraq by the end of July.

Britain has 4,100 troops stationed in Iraq, near the southern oil center of Basra. Australia has 300 troops.

A spokesman for the British embassy in Baghdad said: “I can confirm that we’ve signed an agreement which gives us all the necessary legal cover that we needed to complete our tasks here.”

An Australian embassy official was not able to comment.

Iraq’s Presidency Council on Sunday ratified a measure agreed by parliament allowing troops from Britain, Australia, El Salvador, Romania and Estonia and the NATO alliance to stay in Iraq until July 2009.

Bilateral agreements between Iraq and each country still needed to be finalized.

Britain, which sent 46,000 troops to the Gulf as the main U.S. ally in the 2003 invasion, intends to keep about 400 advisers and trainers in the country after the July deadline.

Askari said deals would be signed in the next few days with diplomats from other countries with small numbers of troops in the U.S.-led force in Iraq.

Reporting by Wisam Mohammed and Peter Graff; writing by Tim Cocks; editing by Andrew Dobbie

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