London, Aug 15 : All British combat troops are to be withdrawn from Iraq by the middle of 2009, leaving a few hundred military trainers to continue instructing an Iraqi Army division based in Basra, according to proposals confirmed by defence sources.
The British sources also said that the Government had no plans to maintain a permanent base in Iraq, although they emphasised that no final decisions had been taken.
Details of the new British personnel structure are to be negotiated in the status-of-forces agreement to be signed with Baghdad, The Times reported.
The Ministry of Defence insisted the move was backed by the US, which it said is "intimately involved" in discussions about the British withdrawal.
There are still currently more than 4,000 British troops stationed in southern Iraq despite pledges from Prime Minister Gordon Brown that numbers would have reduced by now.
Brown has been careful over the past few months not to put a timetable on British withdrawal but sources gave the clearest indication yet that our involvement is poised to end.
The Iraqis are now close to agreeing a deal with the Americans - which could see all US soldiers leave within three years starting next summer.
Major Gen Barney White-Spunner, who has just completed a six month tour in charge of the British force in southern Iraq, said that Brown's hope for a "fundamental mission change" in Iraq would now be able to "take place next year".
However, many soldiers are set to be redeployed quickly in Afghanistan where fighting has intensified against the Taliban.