London, Oct 29 : New British Defence Secretary John Hutton has said that the Iraq war would be over by 2010 when all of UK's forces would be substantially withdrawn from Basra. A rapid drop in troop numbers is also expected during early 2009.
Hutton stressed that withdrawal of troops would remain subject to conditions on the ground, but added he was "optimistic".
Even as more than five years after the invasion, there are still around 4000 British soldiers stationed on the outskirts of the southern Iraqi city.
"I think there is no doubt at all that the situation in Basra has been completely transformed. I also think we can look forward to a very substantial change in mission for UK forces in Iraq during the first half of next year," The Mirror quoted Hutton as saying, while appearing before a joint hearing of the Commons Defence and Foreign Affairs Select Committees.
According to the paper, it was the first time he had been grilled by MPs since landing his dream job at the Ministry of Defence.
He added that the UK force was on the course to hand over its last base Basra airport by the end of this year.
Britain is expected to keep dozens in Iraq to train the latter's Army and the Police.
Hutton said that there was a need to be "very vigilant" about Iran's involvement. "It is totally unacceptable for foreign countries to be supporting armed militia groups outside of the political process," added the defence secretary.