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Wednesday, 1 April 2009

British Troops Hand Over Basra

Yesterday British troops began their withdrawal from Iraq, after six years and 179 casualties.

From the BBC:

Major General Andy Salmon has transferred authority for what will become Multi-National Division South to US Major General Michael Oates.

The generals' pennants were raised and lowered in a handover ceremony.

Most of Britain's 4,000 troops will leave by 31 May, the official end-of-combat date.

About 400 will stay after that, either in HQ roles or to train the Iraqi Navy.

A Royal Marine band from Plymouth played as the Marines' flag was lowered in the ceremony at Basra airbase and replaced with the standard of the US Army's 10th Mountain Division.
Britain's Maj Gen Andy Salmon then shook hands with his American successor and embraced him.

In a speech at the handover ceremony, Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup, the Chief of Defence Staff, paid tribute to the troops who had served in Iraq.

"This occasion is about the countless numbers of young men and women from the far flung corners of the US and and the various reaches of the British Isles, who have together striven here with such dedication, with such commitment, and such courage, over so long a period," he said.

"We remember particularly at such a time those who paid the ultimate price in this endeavour, those who suffered injury and disablement, in order that we might get to this point today."

Maj Gen Salmon says much has been achieved over the past six years.
He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that the work of British forces had changed the lives of ordinary Iraqis.

"For those who are old enough to realise, and compare it with the past gloom of Saddam's era, they look back to 30 years ago and say 'We're seeing stability that we haven't had before; we're seeing levels of freedom that we haven't had before'," he said.

Indeed. Whatever the critics say, the British and US military personnel in Iraq have generally carried themselves with courage, honour and aplomb, many paying the ultimate price to make other people's lives better.

Here's to all of them - and wishing the US soldiers there a safe tour before their final withdrawal.

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