The paper quoted a senior defence source as saying that instead of handing over to Iraqi authorities, the British will be replaced at their Basra airport base by a large force of U.S. troops, who will set up their own headquarters there.
The withdrawal follows months of planning and security assessments by British and American commanders, the report said. The timetable is expected to be confirmed by British Prime Minister Gordon Brown early in the new year.
The initial rundown will be relatively modest, with the tempo increasing later, the defence officials said. "It will be very gradual, and them a fairly steep reduction," one said.
By the end of June almost all the 4,000 British troops now stationed at Basra will be gone, the paper reported. About 300 will remain at the request of the Iraqis to help set up colleges for officer cadets and senior staff officers, and to train the Iraqi navy.
Equipment, from the tanks to tents, will be "tailored down", officials said, indicating a gradual rundown. Most of it will be transported back to Britain.