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Fresh Troops Arrive in Iraq

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Hundreds of British soldiers were arriving in Iraq today to relieve peacekeeping forces beset by bloody rebellion.

Yesterday, 13 US troops and at least 66 Iraqis died in clashes, while British forces killed 15 fighters in recent trouble in the south of the country.

Coalition forces now face attacks from extremists drawn from the majority Shia population led by radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr as well as the Sunni minority and remnants of Saddam Hussein?s regime.

The increasing resistance has prompted calls by Iraq?s foreign minister for thousands more troops to be sent in. The US is already considering boosting its presence.

Prime Minister Tony Blair has said the coalition must ?hold firm? in the face of rising violence.

Almost 5,000 British soldiers are going out to the Gulf to take over from four or five brigades which will return home, the MoD said yesterday.

The 4,500-strong 1st Mechanised Brigade, based in Tidworth, Wiltshire, will comprise half the 8,700 British troops stationed in Iraq.

About 700 soldiers from the Princess of Wales?s Royal Regiment ? part of the brigade ? were flying out today and tomorrow.

They will take over the running of southern Iraq from the 20 Armoured Brigade.

The MoD was adamant the latest British contingent were not additional troops.

Yesterday, Iraq?s foreign minister Hoshyar Zebari said Iraq needed 25,000 extra soldiers to cope with worsening violence.

Speaking after talks with Prime Minister Tony Blair in London he warned the violence would spiral in the three months leading up to the handover of power on June 30.

Mr Zebari said coalition troops should return to the levels they were at during the war. He said there were now 105,000 troops in Iraq compared to the 130,000 during the war.

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