- Title: IRAQ: British troops begin Basra withdrawal.
- Date: 1st April 2009
- Summary: VARIOUS OF IRAQI SOLDIERS RAISING IRAQ'S FLAG VARIOUS OF IRAQI MILITARY BAND PLAYING/ MILITARY SALUTING
- Embargoed: 16th April 2009 13:00
- Location: Iraq
- Country: Iraq
- Topics: International Relations
- Reuters ID: LVA99SVRFN6O0GH39HQT59NQWXVI
- Story Text: British combat troops begin Basra withdrawal as US hands over strategic Baghdad base to Iraqi forces.
British military forces started withdrawing the first batch of its remaining 4,000 combat troops from Iraq on Tuesday (March 31) six years after helping to topple Saddam Hussein as Washington's main ally in the U.S.-led invasion.
The phased withdrawal of troops stationed in the southern city of Basra is due to be completed by the end of July. A residual presence of a few hundred personnel will stay on to train Iraqi police.
Speaking at a ceremony handing over to US troops, Air Chief Marshall, Sir Jock Stirrup, commander of British forces in Basra said the occasion was of particular significance to the UK and the British military.
"It signifies the end of a particular phase in our engagement in this great endeavour, in this great country. But what this does not signify is the end of the British commitment to or involvement with our Iraqi partners," he said.
The 2003 invasion unleashed widespread sectarian killing, and the war in Iraq has proven both costly and unpopular for the United States and Britain. Violence has since dropped sharply in the past year, and foreign troops prepare to leave.
U.S. President Barack Obama said last month that the United States will withdraw around 100,000 troops from Iraq by the end of August 2010, leaving a force of up to about 50,000.
The U.S. military will send some 900 military police to Basra to lead police training, part of U.S. plans to open a headquarters there to command its forces in southern Iraq. Iraqi forces are responsible for security in the south.
Britain sent 46,000 troops to the Gulf for the 2003 invasion. The troops once controlled the southern oil-rich province of Basra, but withdrew to Basra airport in 2007, leaving Iraqi forces to take control of security.
Basra was once overrun by gangs and militias vying for its oil wealth, but is now relatively calm after Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki ordered a security crackdown last year.
Iraqi forces sent to restore order found themselves shooting at gunmen in police uniform, and the British military has said restoring confidence in Basra's police is key to stability.
Also on Tuesday (March 31) U.S. forces handed over control of the Forward Operating Base (FOB) in Rustumiya in southern Baghdad to Iraqi security forces, as a part of a US.-Iraqi security deal signed on December 31, 2008.
Iraqi and U.S. commanders attended the hand-over ceremony at the Iraqi military academy in the southern part of the Iraqi capital.
"For me personally this is a very happy day, the Iraqi military academy is very strong training institution with a tremendous history of progress and effort in support of people of Iraq, I know that today marks the day we are going to move ahead and see a great of things come form graduates of military academy here in Rustumiya," U.S. Major-General Daniel Polger told Reuters.
U.S. President Barack Obama announced last month that the United States will withdraw around 100,000 troops from Iraq by the end of August 2010, leaving a force of up to about 50,000.
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