PM Gordon Brown said British forces will leave Iraq in the first half of 2009 after a six-year war that ejected Saddam Hussein from power and helped bring down Tony Blair. Brown and his Iraqi counterpart, Nuri al-Maliki, said the government in Baghdad approved a draft law providing for the withdrawal of troops from the UK, Australia, Romania, Estonia, and El Salvador no later than July 31, 2009. "We have been engaged in the most difficult task, the task of establishing a democracy," Brown told reporters in Baghdad. "We leave Iraq a better place." The agreement will leave the US without its most important ally in Iraq and allow Britain to divert more resources into the escalating conflict in Afghanistan. (Bloomberg)

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