I signed off last week as the team were fully engaged planning for the change of Commander Multi National Division (South East) (MND (SE)). The torrent of coverage that followed the transfer and the London briefing that Major General Barney White-Spunner gave, demonstrated that the team out here in Iraq and back in London had delivered what was required.
Headlines likes "Basra, it's absolutely blooming!" paint a very powerful picture of the significant changes that Basra has been experiencing over the past five months. Life here is much better and there is a new sense of optimism, but, there is still much to do.
On top of the reports highlighting the new pace of life here, there were many stories which speculated on troops being pulled out of Iraq. However much that may be the wish of the newspapers, the reality is that we have a valuable and much needed job to do here. One thing that is certain is that the Prime Minister has a long tem strategy, which will mean a fundamental change in mission. But as in any military operation the decision will be made based on conditions on the ground when the time is right.
Across Al Basrah province, UK and US troops are working with the Iraq Army, as well as the Iraqi Police Service. The coalition troops provide a real and much needed capability which is increasing the self reliance of the Iraqi Security Forces so that they can take control of their own city without the need for outside help.
Two days ago there was an explosion near a US police vehicle that was travelling through Northern Basra. Fortunately, no one was hurt and the vehicle survived with very little damage. It wasn't long before the media ops phones started ringing, asking what had happened.
While we were working out what the situation was and passing on the information to the media, the Iraqi Security Services set up a cordon and search operation around the scene of the explosion. What they uncovered was a bomb factory full of IEDs, detonators, rockets and guns which was an impressive find. But what made the whole event so significant, was that an explosion in Basra made headline news.
Major Paul Smyth, RIFLESMND (SE) Press Information Centre Director and spokesman