Ministers defend UK role in Iraq

CABINET ministers have launched a robust defence of Britain's role in Iraq, rebuffing American criticism that UK forces had failed in their mission.

Des Browne, the Defence Secretary, and David Miliband, the Foreign Secretary, took the unusual move of writing an editorial in the Washington Post yesterday, insisting that Britain was on track to hand over Basra to Iraqi authorities "within months".

The intervention came after weeks of criticism from the US, where former generals and military analysts accused British forces of failing in Basra and plotting to flee.

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George Bush, the US President, also signalled his irritation at Gordon Brown's stance on Iraq, saying yesterday that "all our coalition partners" need to stay to get the job done.

But Mr Browne and Mr Miliband hit back at the allegations that troops had lost control of the region.

They wrote: "Recent weeks have brought a lot of misplaced criticism of the UK's role in southern Iraq. It is time to set the record straight.

"The question some people have asked is, have British forces failed in Basra? The answer is no. We believe we remain on track to complete the return of full sovereignty to the Iraqi people as planned. The UK is sticking to the mission we took on four years ago."