British troops have ended six years of combat operations in Iraq, Prime Minister Gordon Brown announced Thursday, praising his military's accomplishments and sacrifices in a mission that was not popular at home.
"Today marks the closing chapter of the combat mission in Iraq," Brown said. "The flag of 20 Armoured Brigade will be lowered as British combat patrols in Basra come to an end and our armed forces prepare to draw down."
The action came a month earlier that expected, the UK's Daily Telegraph reported. Since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion, 179 British service personnel have been killed in Iraq. In the southern city of Basra, the British military held a ceremony to honor those who died during the war.
"They will always be remembered for the service they have given. Our country owes them a huge debt of gratitude," Brown said.
Al-Maliki and other Iraqi ministers, including oil minister Hussain al-Shahristani, were in London to attend an investment conference with about 250 companies, including Royal Dutch Shell PLC and Rolls Royce.
The bulk of Britain's 3,700 troops will leave Iraq by the end of May. About 400 British military personnel are expected to remain to train Iraqi naval forces.