British troops say goodbye to Basra as US takes over

After six years and 179 deaths, pull-out begins

It has been a campaign as mired in controversy as it has been costly in lives. But yesterday, almost exactly six years to the day after British forces rolled into Iraq, they began to leave.

Major General Andy Salmon handed over military command of the southern area of the country to his US counterpart, Major General Michael Oates, signifying the start of the withdrawal of most of the UK's 4,100 personnel from Basra. British combat operations in Iraq will end on 31 May and all but 400 troops will leave by the end of July. The 400 remaining British soldiers will chiefly be training Iraqi Army officers and working as part of the Naval Transition Team. All will be aware that 179 of their comrades have lost their lives since the invasion in 2003.

"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," said Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup, Chief of the Defence Staff, who was in Iraq for the handover ceremony alongside the American General Ray Odierno, commanding general of coalition forces in Iraq. Later the Royal Marines Band played "Sunset" as the pennant of the UK's Combined Amphibious Forces was lowered and replaced by that of the American 10th Mountain Division flag.

While the mood in Basra was yesterday described by the Army as "reflective but positive," a suicide bombing at a police station in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, which left eight dead and 12 more injured, was a reminder that the violence continues. It was the latest in a string of attacks this month, raising fears that insurgents are attempting to regroup only three months before US troops are due to withdraw from the cities.

However, the British insist the situation in Basra has been more stable. In the past eight months there have been five attacks on the main base, in comparison to 28 in March last year alone.

As a result the Defence Secretary, John Hutton, said yesterday that the UK led Multi-National Division South-East and US-led Baghdad-based MND Centre would be merged in Basra as Iraqi Security Forces were able to deliver security in the south with only minimal coalition assistance. For the Americans the route south to Kuwait remains essential as they prepare to to remove two brigades themselves by the end of the end of the summer.

Gordon Brown said that he was proud of the job British servicemen and women had done. "There have been difficult times along the way, but British troops have made an outstanding contribution to laying the ground for a stable and increasingly prosperous Basra – part of a stable, secure and prosperous Iraq," he said.

Yesterday, a bright pink trailer offering "pretzel dogs" was a sign that the Americans had begun moving into the British base, having been warned by their unofficial website that they will have to endure more spartan living conditions until the luxuries to which US forces are accustomed are built.

Iraq in numbers

4,259 US military deaths since invasion.

179 UK military deaths since invasion.

99,500 Highest estimate of Iraqi civilian deaths.

£8.5bn Cost of UK operations in Iraq.

18,000 Number of UK troops in Iraq, May 2003.

4,000 Number of UK troops in Iraq, April 2009.

400 British troops in Iraq after 31 May.

48 Life expectancy of average Iraqi man.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooksNow available in paperback
  • Get to the point
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living