Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Tributes as Power Is Handed to Iraqis; Troops Had Shown 'Bravery beyond the Call of Duty' Says General

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Tributes as Power Is Handed to Iraqis; Troops Had Shown 'Bravery beyond the Call of Duty' Says General

Article excerpt

Byline: By John Bingham

BRITAIN all but ended its active combat role in Iraq yesterday with the handover of the last province under UK military control.

With a handshake and a signature, the General who entered Basra with an invading army four-and-a-half years ago transferred full control of the city and its surrounding province to the Iraqis.

Major General Graham Binns paid tribute to the "bravery far beyond the call of duty" of the UK troops who have lost 174 of their number in Britain's most contentious military venture of modern times.

On a day of symbolism, the handover took place in the departure lounge of Basra Airport.

Meanwhile, inside the city which British troops have not entered since their withdrawal from Saddam Hussein's former palace three-and-a-half months ago, Iraqis paraded and celebrated what they called an "historicday".

The handover of control of security in the province is the biggest landmark yet on the path to full British withdrawal from Iraq. It comes at a time when extra forces may be needed in Afghanistan.

The move clears the way for British troop numbers in the country to be slashed to just 2,500 by next spring.

Foreign Secretary David Miliband who attended the ceremony, indicated yesterday that a decision on any future drawdown would then have to be made.

From yesterday the active British combat role, which began when George Bush and Tony Blair launched the Iraq War in 2003, formally takes a back seat to one of training homegrown security forces.

Under a new so-called "overwatch" role, UK troops will only be involved in military intervention if they are invited.

"We will continue to train security forces ... but we are guests in your country and we will act accordingly. Our help will continue to be one of assistance, not interference," Major Gen Binns told local leaders at the ceremony.

Mr Miliband conceded that Basra as it is today is far from "a land of milk and honey" but he hailed the handover as a "momentous day" for the people of Basra.

"Our aim is to see an Iraq run by Iraqis for all Iraqis," he said.

In the UK, acting Liberal Democrat leader Vince Cable said: "There is no justification for our continuing presence in Iraq given that the British armed forces are so overstretched. …

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