UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown surprised his troops with a visit in Iraq today and declared that Britain will cede control of Basra within two weeks, the Times of London reports. He told 300 soldiers that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki had advised the quick pull-out "so Iraq can take far more responsibility for its security"—but UK ministers link the move to Iraqis who have kidnapped British citizens and threatened to kill at least one.
The kidnappers released a video this week vowing to kill one victim in days if the UK doesn't pull out. Meanwhile, Basra police have said they face "hardships" and will lose ground against militants without British support. The UK already plans to drop Iraq troop levels to 2,500 by spring and provide "overwatch" services such as training and periodic military support.