Wednesday, December 24, 2008

UK troops in festive mood in Iraq - BBC

By Caroline Wyatt BBC News, in Basra

A group of recruits stand stiffly to attention at their passing-out parade on a parade ground in the centre of a burnt-out, bombed military academy in Basra.

Their uniforms are a hotch-potch of different desert camouflage, but all stand with pride as they are awarded their end-of-course medals.

These are Iraqi soldiers, junior NCOs (non-commissioned officers), passing out under the watchful eyes of their British army mentors from the Queen's Royal Hussars (QRH), who look on with equal pride.

"They're every bit as good as some of ours - and some of them are better," says the Regimental Sergeant Major Ian Hammond.

Few of the young Iraqis speak much English, but the two sides seem to share a common military language.

There is a real sense of achievement here, and mutual respect between two armies which only five years ago stood to fight against one another.

British back-up

The training of Iraq's new army will be one of Britain's lasting legacies in Basra.
One recruit, Sgt Adel al-Baidhani, even wants his British mentors to stay on longer.

His ears were cut off on the orders of Saddam Hussein as a punishment for deserting the Iraqi army in the 1990s. A British plastic surgeon later helped repair the damage, offering pioneering surgery.

Sgt al-Baidhani has just been given the passing-out prize for being the best young sergeant. He was keen to join the new army.

"The Iraqi army is strong now, and it has good leadership but it's not ready to defend the country on its own yet.

For the full article click here for the BBC website

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