Majority of British troops to leave 'booming' Basra

The majority of British troops serving in Iraq will be withdrawn by the middle of next year because the southern port city of Basra - where they are based - is booming, it was claimed today.









Major General Barney White-Spunner, who has just returned from commanding British forces in southern Iraq, told the Guardian the UK was "getting close to what we set out to achieve".



And he painted a rosy picture of life in Basra, with house prices rocketing, restaurants opening and foreign investors beginning to move in.



But Major General White-Spunner's assessment differs from that given by recent visitors to the area, including journalist John Humphrys.



Last month Humphrys described the city as "hell on earth".



Writing in the Mail on Sunday, he said: "Talk of reconstruction rings hollow when you drive through the streets of this shattered city, stumble on the broken pavements, curse yet another power cut, recoil at the brown sludge that appears when you turn on a tap."



Major General White-Spunner said Basra's port of Umm Qasr was "booming", with major international oil companies lining up to invest in the region.



He said security was no longer seen as a problem and that "there is a view the militia is not going to come back".



He added: "Property prices have more than doubled since March. One house is going for £90,000, a threefold increase."



Both The Guardian and The Daily Telegraph said the optimistic message was reflected in plans to withdraw the majority of the UK's 4,100 troops currently serving in Iraq by middle of next year.



That follows Prime Minister Gordon Brown's stated intention for a "fundamental mission change" in the country.



Last month Mr Brown told MPs: "We will continue to reduce the number of British troops in Iraq.



"Of course, future decisions will be based - as I have always said - on the advice of our military commanders on the ground.



"But just as last year we moved from combat to 'overwatch', we would expect a further fundamental change of mission in the first months of 2009."



Last night a spokesman for the Ministry of Defence (MoD) said while it was hoped that the UK's military presence in Iraq would be reduced, there was no timetable for withdrawal.



The spokesman said: "Although it is hoped that the UK military presence in Iraq will decrease significantly in the future, it is still too early to discuss the size and shape of a reduced UK forces footprint.



"In his statement to the House of Commons on 22 July, the Prime Minister set out the intent to make a fundamental change to the UK mission in Iraq in the first months of 2009.



"As ever, this will be based on conditions on the ground, the plans of our coalition partners and the military contribution requested of us by the government of Iraq under a long-term bilateral relationship.



"As a key coalition partner, the US is intimately involved with the development of our future plans.



"And, as (American) General (David) Petraeus stressed in his recent interview with The Times, the US is fully supportive of the UK's current position on Iraq and of our proposals for Iraq's future."



Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman Edward Davey criticised the Government for failing to give a clear timetable for withdrawal.



And he said morale would be damaged by the news that troops were being used as "political cover" for Britain's relationship with the US.



"British troops and their families must be fed up of the series of nods and winks on withdrawal which often turn out to have no substance," Mr Davey said.



"Our forces' lives are on the line, and it is about time that the Government gave them some definite decisions, rather than vague hopes.



"Even if this latest hint turns out to be true, the timescale seems far too slow. Our troops should be home from Iraq by Christmas at the very latest.



"It must be immensely frustrating for our service men and women on the ground in Iraq to know they are there more as political cover for the Brown-Bush relationship than to provide any real help to the Iraqi people."

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
The guide, since withdrawn, used illustrations and text to help people understand the court process (Getty)
newsMinistry of Justice gets law 'terribly wrong' in its guide to courts
News
Bobbi Kristina Brown with her mother Whitney Houston in 2011
people
News
Starting the day with a three-egg omelette could make people more charitable, according to new research
scienceFeed someone a big omelette, and they may give twice as much, thanks to a compound in the eggs
News
Top Gun actor Val Kilmer lost his small claims court battle in Van Nuys with the landlord of his Malibu mansion to get back his deposit after wallpapering over the kitchen cabinets
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
News
The actress Geraldine McEwan was perhaps best known for playing Agatha Christie's detective, Miss Marple (Rex)
peopleShe won a Bafta in 1991 for her role in Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit
News
newsPatrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
News
Robert Fraser, aka Groovy Bob
peopleA new show honours Robert Fraser, one of the era's forgotten players
Life and Style
Torsten Sherwood's Noook is a simple construction toy for creating mini-architecture
tech
Sport
David Silva celebrates with Sergio Aguero after equalising against Chelsea
footballChelsea 1 Manchester City 1
News
i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Online Media Sales Trainee

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...

Recruitment Genius: Public House Manager / Management Couples

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about great ...

Recruitment Genius: Production Planner

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Recruitment Genius: General Factory Operatives

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Day In a Page

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

Homeless Veterans appeal

The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

How books can defeat Isis

Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

Young carers to make dance debut

What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

Design Council's 70th anniversary

Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

Dame Harriet Walter interview

The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

Bill Granger's winter salads

Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links