Without fanfare or much thanks, Britain departs from Iraq

Five years and 10 months after the 2003 invasion of Iraq, Gordon Brown yesterday announced a date for Britain's final disengagement from the most bitter, controversial military involvement of recent history. He made the momentous announcement during a brief visit to the country during which the details of the withdrawal of the last remaining 4,100-strong force were settled with the Iraqi Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki.

The British military mission will officially cease at the end of May with the troops completing their departure in the next two months. A team of just a few hundred will stay behind to train the Iraqi armed services, without taking any further part in combat duties.

The withdrawal deal, which has been before the Iraqi council of ministers, will shortly be put to the Iraqi parliament where, said officials in Baghdad, it will be formally passed in the next few weeks.

American troops will be moving down from Baghdad to set up headquarters in Basra with a force of around 4,000. As well as monitoring security in the region they will also guard the Iranian border and protect supply lines from Kuwait until the US withdraws its own forces in 2011. There is also apprehension that the forthcoming provincial elections set for the end of January may lead to a renewal of violence among parties with paramilitary links seeking to control the region's lucrative oil wealth. A serious outbreak of bloodletting would severely test Britain's exit strategy.

After his talks in Baghdad, Mr Brown flew to Basra to meet British troops at their one remaining base at the airport. He laid a wreath at a memorial wall for the 178 members of UK forces who had lost their lives in the conflict as Royal Marines buglers played The Last Post. The wall would be taken back to Britain rather than left to an uncertain future in Basra, senior officers said.

Soldiers of 5 Rifles battalion were in Basra to hear Mr Brown declare that the war was finally over.

For these men, who have seen the worst of the violence in this conflict, the advent of relative peace in the city was a vindication of their sacrifice. Their commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel Edward Chamberlain, 40, said of the controversy regarding the war back home: "It is healthy to have a debate about important matters and I welcome that. But we had a job to do here and the fact is that Basra is now a far better place.

"It is heartening to see that life is coming back into the city and there is thriving business. I believe that the future for this city and Iraq is a very good one.

"Basra had been badly neglected under Saddam and one cannot deny that the people had very little freedom. They are now in a position to use their voice and decide their future for themselves; that is their right."

Lance Corporal Nathan Mustoe, 27, who has taken part in four tours, said: "I am a medic and I have had to deal with some pretty terrible situations, some really bad injuries. One of the best things about the fall-off in violence is that we can now go out and work with local people and help them a lot more easily. Obviously the families at home were worried, but this is what we do. I would like to come back to Iraq one day."

As a Christian woman married to a Sunni in the overwhelmingly Shia south, Juliana Dawood Yusef was certainly at risk when Shia militias were in control of Basra. The professor of linguistics at Basra University could do little to help as some of her female students were murdered and others fled after threats.

"It is true that the British did not do anything like enough to confront the militias at the time despite the fact we told them what was going on, people felt let down," she said.

"But they have tried hard since and I think overall it was a good thing that they were here. Unfortunately most people here would not see that picture, they feel that democracy has not helped them – they do not trust the politicians. The British will receive no thanks from many people."

Hakim Haidar Ali, a 37-year-old carpenter, held that with Iraqi forces now seemingly able to take on the militia there was simply no reason for the British to stay on.

"It was our army which fought them and Basra is now better," said Mr Ali. "There is no reason for the British to stay here any longer. It has now been many years since they arrived. I am glad they overthrew Saddam, but it is time their soldiers to go home. We'll be happy to see other British people visit us, Basra is a beautiful city."

After Basra, the Prime Minister flew to the port of Um Qasar, where a burgeoning trade is held up by US and British officials as an example of the successful commercial future for Iraq.

Mr Brown denied that he was using economic progress as an excuse to abort an unpopular mission without reaching any of the targets for success set by his predecessor Tony Blair.

More than 100,000 British soldiers have served in Iraq and the legacy Britain leaves behind is, like the war itself, a matter of fierce dispute. As the British and Iraqi governments issued a joint communiqué in Baghdad, twin bomb attacks echoed through the Iraqi capital, killing 18 people and injuring dozens of others. British officials maintain, however, that the situation in Basra is different, and has vastly improved in recent times.

Local people bitterly complained at the time that the British forces had stayed inside their barricaded base and abandoned them to the widespread lawlessness, and there was also criticism from Prime Minister Maliki, who accused the British of failing to confront the militias.

British officials and commanders privately accuse Mr Maliki of hypocrisy, pointing out that his government had, in the past, urged the UK to stop operations against the radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's Mehdi Army because it wanted Mr Sadr's political support.

Much of the improvement came after a spring offensive, Operation Charge of the Knights, led by Iraqi troops with US and British support, which targeted Shia militias, in particular the Mehdi Army.

The head of UK armed forces, Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup, who was accompanying Mr Brown on the visit to Iraq, robustly defended the actions of British soldiers. He insisted that they had done a "magnificent job and had certainly not been beaten by the militias".

* The US State Department is making plans to replace the security contractor Blackwater in Iraq. A departmental report suggests the company, which is used to protect diplomats, could lose its licence to operate in the country. The review was ordered after Blackwater guards killed 17 Iraqi civilians in Baghdad last year. Five guards have been charged with manslaughter.

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Flora Spencer-Longhurst as Lavinia, William Houston as Titus Andronicus and Dyfan Dwyfor as Lucius
theatreThe Shakespeare play that proved too much for more than 100 people
A 1930 image of the Karl Albrecht Spiritousen and Lebensmittel shop, Essen. The shop was opened by Karl and Theo Albrecht’s mother; the brothers later founded Aldi
exclusivePunk icon Viv Albertine on Sid Vicious, complacent white men, and why free love led to rape
Arts and Entertainment
booksThe best children's books for this summer
ebookA powerful collection of reportage on Egypt’s cycle of awakening and relapse
Arts and Entertainment
Stir crazy: Noel Fielding in 'Luxury Comedy 2: Tales from Painted Hawaii'
comedyAs his surreal ‘Luxury Comedy’ returns, Noel Fielding on why mainstream success scares him and what the future holds for 'The Boosh'
Life and Style
Flow chart: Karl Landsteiner discovered blood types in 1900, yet scientists have still not come up with an explanation for their existence
lifeAll of us have one. Yet even now, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Arts and Entertainment
'Weird Al' Yankovic, or Alfred Matthew, at the 2014 Los Angeles Film Festival Screening of
musicHis latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do our experts think he’s missed out?
Colombia's James Rodriguez celebrates one of his goals during the FIFA World Cup 2014 round of 16 match between Colombia and Uruguay at the Estadio do Maracana in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
sportColombian World Cup star completes £63m move to Spain
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'
filmA cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Life and Style
News to me: family events were recorded in the personal columns
techFamily events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped that
Antoine Griezmann has started two of France’s four games so far
Life and Style
techYahoo Japan launches service to delete your files and email your relatives when you die
Life and Style
Child's play: letting young people roam outdoors directly contradicts the current climate
lifeHow much independence should children have?
Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book
booksFind out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

Sustainability Manager

Competitive: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: Scheme Manager (BREEAM)...

Graduate Sustainability Professional

Flexible, depending on experience: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: T...

Programme Director - Conduct Risk - London

£850 - £950 per day: Orgtel: Programme Director - Conduct Risk - Banking - £85...

Project Coordinator/Order Entry, SC Clear

£100 - £110 per day: Orgtel: Project Coordinator/Order Entry Hampshire

Day In a Page

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

A land of the outright bizarre
What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

The worst kept secret in cinema

A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

The new hatched, matched and dispatched

Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
Why do we have blood types?

Are you my type?

All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

Honesty box hotels

Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn
Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

Meet the man who doesn't want to go down in history as the country's last Scottish Secretary