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The majority of British troops serving in Iraq will be withdrawn by the middle of next year because the southern port city of Basra - where they are based - is booming, it was claimed today.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
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
News
The 67P/CG comet as seen from the Philae lander
scienceThe most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Arts and Entertainment
Ian McKellen as Gandalf in The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies
film
Sport
football
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Koenig, creator of popular podcast Serial, which is to be broadcast by the BBC
tvReview: The secret to the programme's success is that it allows its audience to play detective
News
Ruby Wax has previously written about her mental health problems in her book Sane New World
people
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: Sales Executives - OTE £60,000

£25000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about Custom...

Recruitment Genius: Care Workers Required - The London Borough of Bromley

£15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This homecare agency is based in Beckenh...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives - OTE £50,000

£25000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about Custom...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives - OTE £50,000

£25000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about Custom...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas