London, July 15 : The British military is likely to have a long-term role in Iraq, a top commander said on Monday.
Major-General Barney White-Spunner, who is in charge of British forces in southern Iraq, said current troop levels will only be reassessed once the job of training Iraqi soldiers and setting up a new security framework in Basra is complete.
But he said that the transformation of Iraq's second city, which was wrested from militia control by the Iraqi security forces in April, had vindicated Britain's often-criticised military approach in the south.
The focus for Britain's 4,000-strong force, based at an airport outside the oil-rich, port city, is to conclude the training of the 14th Iraqi Army division, The Times quoted the general, as saying.
He said: "We are setting up a structure in Basra that is as future proof as it can be so that if bad people, violent extremists, do try to come back into Basra - and they will - that the Iraqi security forces have got as much help in dealing with them as they need."
"What we all hope is in the future, and when the future starts I don't know yet, there will be a long-term bilateral relationship between the UK and Iraq... which will be economic and cultural and probably have a military element," he added.
Britain must conclude a status of forces agreement with Iraq before the end of the year to legalise its future presence in the country as their United Nations mandate runs out at midnight on December 31.