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UK operation in Iraq set to end

The UK's military operation in Iraq will finally end this weekend when the Royal Navy completes its mission to train the country's sailors, Defence Secretary Liam Fox has said.

Most British forces, deployed in Iraq since the 2003 invasion to topple Saddam Hussein, pulled out July 2009 from the southern city of Basra, where most were based.

But the Royal Navy continued to train Iraqi sailors to defend their territorial waters and offshore oil infrastructure as part of Operation Telic.

The mission at Iraq's main naval base in Umm Qasr ends on Sunday, after which there will be only a "handful" of staff at the British embassy in Baghdad.

A total of 179 British personnel lost their lives in the past eight years.

The Ministry of Defence said the UK's role, working alongside sailors from the US Navy, was at the request of the Iraqi government.

It involved training 1,800 Iraqi personnel on 50 different courses ranging from oil platform defence to handling small arms.

British forces will continue to support Nato's officer training programme, while some Iraqi soldiers will attend the army's training college at Sandhurst.

"Royal Navy personnel have used their formidable skills and expertise to bring about a transformation in Iraq's naval force," the Defence Secretary said.

"The Iraqi Navy has a key role to play in protecting Iraq's territorial waters and the oil infrastructure that is so vital to Iraq's economy, and I am proud of the role British forces have played in making it capable of doing that job.

"But this is also an opportunity to reflect on the wider contribution of Britain's Armed Forces to Iraq since 2003.

"Thanks to the sacrifice, commitment, and professionalism of thousands of British servicemen and women Southern Iraq is an area transformed from the dangerous and oppressed place it was under Saddam Hussein and in the aftermath of his removal.

"I pay tribute to all those who served, particularly the 179 British personnel who made the ultimate sacrifice, fighting for security and stability in Iraq."

Brigadier Max Marriner CBE, commander British Forces in Iraq, said "security has fundamentally improved" thanks to Britain's intervention.

He added: "The Iraqi Navy guards the engine room of this transformation - the oil platforms within Iraqi territorial waters - and they achieved that capability through the constant and professional training received by our excellent RN trainers and educators.

"The Iraqi Navy are ready, so now is the time for the UK to dress back and let them complete the mission they were created for."