Saturday, November 29, 2008

War in Iraq ends for international forces - Times Online

President Bush's “coalition of the willing” is set to all but disappear from Iraq by the end of the year, with 13 countries, including South Korea, Japan, Moldova and Tonga preparing to withdraw their few remaining troops.

Britain, Australia, Romania, Estonia and El Salvador are the only nations, apart from the US, that plan to remain after a UN mandate authorising their presence expires on December 31.

London must still reach an agreement with Baghdad, however, to keep its 4,100-strong contingent on the ground into the new year. Failure to do so in time would leave British troops without legal cover and they too would have to leave.

“We are going to say farewell to 13 different nations in the space of two and a half weeks,” said Brigadier-General Nicolas Matern, a deputy commander for Multi-National Corps Iraq, which oversees the US military's coalition partners.

“We started off with 35 countries but it has steadily been going down ... As from December it is going to go all the way down,” he told The Times.

Read the full article on the Times website here

Friday, November 28, 2008

Basra Market

Major General Andy Salmon (right)Major General Andy Salmon (left)

General Officer Commanding (GOC) Multi-National Division South East, Major General Andy Salmon, walked around the town of Al Qurnah near Basra this week, and shared a meal with the market traders.

Al Qurnah is a large town some 45 miles (72 kilometres) north west of Basra and is the administrative centre for the area. It sits at the confluence of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers and acts as the main hub for routes into Maysan province.

Maj Gen Salmon's visit can be seen as another sign of the ever increasing security improvements in Iraq. He met with local traders in the Alwat fish market and on the streets during his walkabout around the town.

A locally-cooked lunch of rice and fish was prepared and shared with the local elders, and members of the Military Transition Team drawn from UK Forces.

At the lunch the GOC emphasised to key leaders that they had a pivotal role, along with the Iraqi Army, in maintaining the security of the area.

The improved situation then allows reconstruction efforts and economic activity to flourish, as evidenced by the bustling market.

The visit was hosted by Colonel Kathem, the Commanding Officer of the 4th Battalion, 52nd Brigade Iraqi Army, and - illustrating the confidence now placed in the Iraqi Army - this unit provided the protection for Maj Gen Salmon's visit.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

RAF Scots help disabled Iraq boy with new wheelchair - Daily Record

BIG-HEARTED RAF Regiment Scots have helped a disabled boy from a poverty-stricken village in Iraq.
Rashash Muslim al Hemdani, 12, had to be carried around by his family.

But now he has a motorised wheelchair thanks to RAF Lossiemouth's 51 squadron - who are based in Basra - and All Mobility Highlands, of Elgin, Moray.

The chair was presented by Squadron CO James Lennie and his deputy, Flight Lieutenant John Rees, who said: "It's a great opportunity to improve the life of a young Iraqi."

Click here for the story on the Daily Record website

Monday, November 24, 2008

Brits hand operation center over to Iraqis

British military forces handed over control of a $2.3 million joint military operations command center in Basra to their Iraqi counterparts.

A joint provincial operations center was established at the Shatt al-Arab hotel, which houses the main operations center in Basra.

British military forces are deployed in Basra as part of Operation Telic in support of the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq. There are around 4,000 British troops stationed there, down from 18,000 in 2003.

Control over the command center was attended by top Iraqi, British and U.S. military commanders. Iraqi Maj. Gen. Mohammed Jowad Hameidi said the relative calm in the vital port city was important to the national reconstruction effort.

For the full story click here to see the Middle East Times

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Bankers and businessmen stress the need to expand the competition among banks

A number of bankers, businessmen and experts in the economic conference held today, Saturday, morning, in Basra province, the need to promote the banking sector in southern Iraq and the expansion of competition between banks, development banks and civil government through removing the restrictions.

The director of the Central Bank in Basra province, in a speech at the conference in a hotel tourism that "civil banks in the province of Basra growing despite many challenges, while surrounded by banks, is still suffering from recession because of restrictions imposed in accordance with item VII of the Charter of the United Nations. "

مصرفيون في البصرة

Read the full story here

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Commando's launch op

The Iraqi Army continues to demonstrate confidence and credibility on a daily basis. A recent search operation in Southern Iraq was planned and led by 14 Divisional (Div) Commando Battalion, Iraq Army with minimal British Forces input. Although nothing was found during the operation, the planning, implementation and execution of the mission was deemed to be a great success, further accelerating the Iraqi Army down the road toward autonomous operations.

Members of the 14 Div Commando Battalion Military Transition Team (MiTT) assisted the Iraq Army in the conduct of the operation, with the Royal Engineers Search Team based at Camp Wessam, near Basra, Iraq, providing back-up support. Operations such as these continue to cement the stable security in the region, that enables other projects such as water treatment, sewerage control and waste management to build up pace, further improving the lives of the Iraqi population.

Friday, November 21, 2008

New security station opens in Basra

Commander Iraqi Ground Forces, Staff General Ali Gheydan, and prime ministerial advisor Mohammed Nasr attended the opening of the Basra Provincial Joint Operational Command (PJOC) this morning, 20 November 2008 in Basra, Iraq.

The PJOC took three months to build in the Shat Al Arab Hotel, which is home to the Basra Operations Command (BAOC). Major General Mohammed Jowad Hameidi, commander of the BAOC, was also present along with Major General Andy Salmon how commands MND(SE).

Major General Mohammed Jowad Hameidi said:
“With the efforts of the Iraqi Security Forces and all the hard work and co-operation of our friends in the Multi National Forces we deliver this massive Joint Operations Centre with all the latest technology similar to other strong armies across the world. We have to save and enjoy the security in Basra in order to make this city the most important place in Iraq for economic and investment opportunities. This will be a gift to the people of Basra for all the hardships that they have suffered under the old regimes”

Major General Andy SALMON said:
“I’m terribly pleased with what I’ve heard today. This is a really proud moment for the ISF and General Mohammed and all the agencies you’ve seen here today. I think it’s particularly gratifying for the British soldiers who have worked so hard to achieve this very difficult task in an accelerated time scale, to get the Basra JOC up and running to full operational capability.”

“For MND(SE) we are seeing great progress in terms of being able to deliver the task that we set ourselves and we remain on track to deliver exactly what the Prime Minister [UK} has said we need to deliver”

Thursday, November 20, 2008

UK troops to withdraw from Iraq in New Year

Telegraph Exclusive: British combat troops will start withdrawing from Iraq shortly after key local elections held at the end of January, the UK commander in Basra has signalled.

By Thomas Harding in Basra

Planning is far advanced for the withdrawal of the 4,000 soldiers from the Basra area under a move called Operation Drayton, The Daily Telegraph has learnt.

The operation will accelerate if the security situation remains stable following the key provincial elections on Jan 31.

Asked if the countdown had begun towards what Gordon Brown called "fundamental mission change" – the code for withdrawal – Major Gen Andy Salmon, the British divisional commander, said that the "clock is ticking nicely".

If the Iraqi 14th Division, which control Basra, manage the elections well, "we will be in a position after that to say that we are pretty much there," he said.

"If we adapt to Iraqi needs then we will avoid outstaying our welcome. Then we will arrive at a mutually agreed position as to when we have met our conditions.

"If the election goes well then our job is heading towards being done. We would have completed our tasks – that is a considerable part of the security issue down here resolved, sorted and completed."

Plans have been drawn up for the British force to be ready to move at 30 days notice when the signal comes from London. The signal date is likely to be beneficial to the Government.

The first battalions could leave Iraq by as early as March, military sources have disclosed.

read the full article online at the Telegraph website

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Airmen v Iraqi villagers match, signals breakthrough

By Morag Lindsay, The Press and Journal

Football game in war zone sees sides drop their guards for show of good sportsmanship.

AIRMEN from a Moray base have been breaking down barriers with villagers in Iraq – using the international language of football.

A squad of players from 51 Squadron RAF Regiment, normally based at RAF Lossiemouth, took time off from guarding the British military base at Basra Airport to turn out on the pitch against a team from Imam Anas, near Basra.

The squadron has built up a strong rapport with people living locally during regular patrols of the area.

The football match marked a breakthrough in relations with the local Iraqi population.
It was the first time the home side knew in advance that the servicemen would be visiting the area.

The soldiers played in RAF football kit with no body protection and the villagers wore an Arsenal strip.

The game resulted in a close-fought 5-4 victory for the Moray side after the RAF goalkeeper, flying officer Mark Bowden, saved the day when the match went to penalties.

The game was the idea of Flight Lieutenant John Rees, deputy squadron commander 51 Squadron RAF Regiment, and local councillor and school headmaster Qais Joudah.

Ft Lt Rees said: “This is an excellent demonstration of the goodwill and relationship we have built up with Imam Anas since the beginning of our tour here.

“It’s a great day and a good reflection of the stage of the operation we are currently at, supporting the Iraqi army and police to pull this event off.

“It’s nice for the blokes from the squadron to get out of their military kit and integrate properly with the local population.”

Mr Joudah said: “This is good for relations and fostering close links with the British. We look forward to close links and relations with the US forces too.”

Adil al Galibi, an English teacher at the local school, said: “The Iraqi people love football and the children have been so excited about today. It’s so good.”

For the full story click here for The Press and Journal online

Piping hot

Their bear-skin hats are soaked through - "nothing that a spell under a hair-drier won't sort" - but the band of the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards play on for the photographers in the pouring rain.

It's in marked contrast to the weather in which they recorded the album they're launching - Spirit of the Glen: Journey.

They were half way through the recording of the album in Edinburgh earlier in the year when they were called on a six-month tour of duty in Iraq.

As soldiers first and musicians second, they had no option but to abandon recording.

But they didn't bank on record producers Tom Lewis and Jon Cohen following them to Basra.

When the producers first approached record company Universal, they were refused permission. Insurance, they were told, would be impossible to arrange.

But the duo were persistent and in August this year, persuaded all involved to allow them to set up a mobile recording studio in the camp at Basra.

The biggest problem once there was the heat - for both equipment and personnel, particularly the pipers.

Read the full story on the BBC website here

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Basra's streets once ran with blood. Now they bustle with shoppers

THE constant blip, blip of a checkout scanner heralds big change at the al-Ameray supermarket on Basra’s main market street, as young Iraqis snap up nappies, magazines, ready meals and the latest perfumes.

SIDE BY SIDE: Brit and Iraqi Five months ago this street was shuttered and empty, the silence broken only by the whoosh of rocket-propelled grenades and the clatter of an AK47 assault rifle. But today business is booming.

BOOMTOWN: 'We'll beat Dubai!' brags Uday

'We'll beat Dubai!' brags Uday"

Read the full story on the News of The World website

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Basra's streets once ran with blood. Now they bustle with shoppers

News of the World Blog

AT the al-Ameray supermarket on Basra’s main market street, the blip, blip of a checkout scanner rings out as young Iraqis snap up nappies, magazines, ready meals and the latest perfumes.

Five months ago this street was shuttered and empty, the silence broken only by the whoosh of rocket-propelled grenades and the clatter of an AK47 machine gun. But today business is booming.

Next door a queue forms outside a butcher’s and nearby women, their hair uncovered, haggle over fresh pomegranates, apples and oranges on a pristine market stall. Once, these women faced being beaten to death for daring to go out unveiled—vicious punishment meted out by gangs of hard-line JAM militia who roamed the streets trying to impose extremist Sharia law.
Now the mobs have gone and women are returning to work and university for the first time in five years. Five tough years that cost the lives of 176 brave British soldiers.

Last week News of the World journalists became the first British pressmen to wander free through the streets where our troops have faced a fusillade of rocket and bomb attacks.
A military escort is still mandatory to leave the British Army base on Basra’s outskirts. But inside the city soldiers are now greeted with smiles and waves instead of bullets and explosions.
When the current force arrived in May they were told they would have to fight their way in and out of the city on every patrol.

Sgt Ian Walker from the 1st Battalion, Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, is on his third tour of Iraq. Scanning the crowded street, he said: “Last time I was here we were under constant attack.
Things were very hostile. Now the situation is very quiet and the Iraqis seem happy to see us.”

The reason for the dramatic change lies with the armoured Humvees of the Iraqi Army’s 14th Division parked on every street corner. There are now 30,000 well-trained and disciplined Iraqi soldiers in Basra.

Read the full blog on the New of The World website

Friday, November 14, 2008

Funds starting to flow into Iraq

Reconstruction in Iraq faces many challenges. But as the BBC World Service's Business Daily programme found, the hurdles are not just about violence, but also about bureaucracy and delay.
Investment has been increasing as the security situation improves
Iraq desperately needs more foreign investment - and the downward slide of oil prices increases the pressure on a country whose government gets 90% of its budget from oil revenues.

Iraq desperately needs more foreign investment - and the downward slide of oil prices increases the pressure on a country whose government gets 90% of its budget from oil revenues.
But there are huge hurdles - the security situation, legal problems, political hold-ups and frustrating delays in getting government permission to start big new projects.
Click here to read the full article on the BBC News web site

Monday, November 10, 2008

Basra Prepares For Exit Of Troops - Sky News

It is only a matter of months before British troops leave Basra, after more than five years since the fall of Saddam Hussein. Sky's Chief Correspondent Stuart Ramsay assesses how the city could fare after British forces leave.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Desert Rats, Iraqi Army Pay Tribute - Sky News

Just days from the 90th anniversary of the end of World War One, remembrance services are also being held in Afghanistan and Iraq, where Stuart Ramsay has joined the Desert Rats in paying their respects to the fallen heroes.

Date set for Iraq provincial poll - BBC Online

Iraq has said provincial elections, which are seen by the US as a key step in the national reconciliation process, will take place on 31 January.

The vote will be held in 14 of Iraq's 18 provinces - excluding Kirkuk and three autonomous Kurdish provinces.

Many Sunni Arabs and some Shia groups boycotted the polls in 2005, leading to the election of what some Iraqis see as unrepresentative local councils.

Read the full report on the BBC website by clicking here

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Sky News - Exclusive - Basra won't be the same again

Troops out of Iraq by April, Alexander says

By Rosa Prince, Political Correspondent -

Speaking during a visit to Basra, Douglas Alexander, the International Development Secretary, said that a "significant draw-down" of troops was on the way.

Final negotiations are said to be underway with the Iraqi government, with Gordon Brown expected to make an announcement before Christmas.

Iraq has been pressing for the speedy withdrawal of all foreign troops, and Barack Obama, the President-Elect, is keen to pull American forces out of the country as soon as possible.

Mr Alexander said: "We'll continue to work closely with the government of Iraq but we will see a significant drawdown of British troops as a recognition of the progress and success that's been enjoyed here in Basra.

"We are looking ahead to the first half of 2009 but our focus on the moment is securing the possibility that I've seen today which is for further jobs, further investment, further prosperity."

Read the full article on the web site

Friday, November 7, 2008

Basra 'Won't Be The Same Again'

Lisa Holland, Foreign affairs correspondent

If British troops pull-out from Basra next spring it will be just over six years since the war in Iraq began.

British servicemen and Iraqi children near Basra

British servicemen try to win the support of the local children near Basra

That's been six long years of occupation for the people of Basra and beyond - an occupation although not planned this way - which has meant an end to ordinary life.

It's meant insecurity, fear and rising unemployment as the militias battled with British forces and each other to exert their influence.

For years it meant a life of never quite knowing whether a gun battle could happen down your street at any moment.

And it was an occupation that changed the character of a city.

The situation has changed dramatically in Basra since the Iraqi government took on the local militias earlier this year. As a result, the British presence in Basra could be all over by next summer. Sky's chief correspondent Stuart Ramsay

Basra used to be a place where people would travel to from neighbouring Kuwait for a beer or just an evening out.

It was a place where female students walked the streets happily in a fashionable mini-skirt - unafraid of the religious fundamentalists who came to exert such influence in recent times.

It's been a long road which began with a honeymoon period for British forces.

In the beginning they used to be able to walk the streets wearing so-called 'soft' berets. Those days soon disappeared.

The British used to have their headquarters down town in an old palace of Saddam Hussein.

The soldiers I went on patrols with called the road out of the palace into town Death Alley.

By June 2006 things were so bad they told me that seven out of ten patrols were hit by some kind of attack - everything from sniper fire to a roadside bomb.

When you got back to base even the toughest of soldiers must surely have heaved a private sight of relief - there was no doubt you took your life in your hands just leaving the base.

Progress has most certainly been made. And it is considerable.

180 generic back of british troops in basra

British troops in Basra

In March this year Iraqi security forces fought fierce gun battles with powerful Shi'ite militias in Basra in a major operation aimed at bringing the southern oil city under government control.

It was a critical test of the training they had undergone at the hands of British forces and of the political will of Mr al Maliki to take on the militias who for so long had undermined his control of the country.

It was a pivotal moment. Iraqi security forces passed the test and life in Basra turned a corner.

Things are slowly changing back but life will never be the same again.

For the Iraqi people the hope is that the promises of those invading forces of the spring of 2003 to deliver a better life might finally be round the corner.

Just as long as the militias haven't simply been biding their time until the last Hercules transporter plane takes off from Basra carrying the last of Britain's fighting forces with them.

For more news and video on Sky News click here

Troops could leave Iraq by next summer

British troops could withdraw from Iraq as early as next summer with the Iraqi government calling for foreign forces to leave the country.

The situation in Basra where British forces have been based has radically changed since the Iraqi government has taken on local insurgents this year.

International development secretary Douglas Alexander hinted British forces could be removed soon.

"We'll continue to work closely with the government of Iraq but we will see a significant drawdown of British troops as a recognition of the progress and success that's been enjoyed here in Basra," Sky News quoted him as saying.

"We are looking ahead to the first half of 2009 but our focus on the moment is securing the possibility that I've seen today which is for further jobs, further investment, further prosperity," he added.

The Iraqi government's Charge of the Knights campaign in March to clear militias out of Basra has set the course for change and now Iraqis want to take control.

The process of handing Basra airport and airspace over to the Iraqis will begin over the next few weeks with American forces taking over camp security.

Gordon Brown when questioned on the issue did not speculate about a possible withdrawal next year in this week's prime minister's questions, but said an announcement about a "fundamental" change in the nature of the mission can be expected before the end of this year.

For the full news story see

Thousands of British troops 'home from Iraq next year' - Daily Mail

Thousands of British troops will be withdrawn from Iraq next year, a Cabinet minister said today.

Overseas Aid Secretary Douglas Alexander firmed up earlier proposals for a fundamental shift in the mission in Iraq early next year.
Mr Alexander, who is visiting Basra, told Sky News: 'We'll continue to work closely with the government of Iraq but we will see a significant draw-down of British troops as a recognition of the progress and success that's been enjoyed here in Basra.

Brits Out Of Iraq By The Summer - Sky News

Final negotiations are under way with the Iraqi government, and Prime Minister Gordon Brown is expected to make an announcement by Christmas.

Iraq is pressing for the withdrawal of all foreign troops and is in talks with the Americans about their role once the United Nations mandate expires at the end of this year.

British forces have been based in the south of the country since the invasion in 2003.
The situation has changed dramatically in Basra since the Iraqi government took on the local militias earlier this year. As a result, the British presence in Basra could be all but over by next summer.

Douglas Alexander in Basra

Britain's International Development Minister, Douglas Alexander, is here flying the British flag.

He told me: "We'll continue to work closely with the government of Iraq but we will see a significant drawdown of British troops as a recognition of the progress and success that's been enjoyed here in Basra….

"We are looking ahead to the first half of 2009 but our focus on the moment is securing the possibility that I've seen today which is for further jobs, further investment, further prosperity."
More immediately, it is believed the process of handing over Basra airport and airspace to the Iraqis will begin within weeks. And American forces will soon take over camp security.

It is also thought that large security projects will be taken over by the Iraqis and Americans, working together.

Major James Gasson-Hargraves, the commander here, says the Iraqis are eager to take control.
"The reality is they are the sheriffs of this town, they own it. The townspeople come to them with their issues, not to me. I'm merely here in the background as support and the Iraqis are on top of where they're going."

Back in March, the Iraqi government's so-called 'charge of the knights campaign' to clear out the militias that had taken over the city was the catalyst for change.

It also convinced some in Baghdad that the British forces were dispensable.

Five years after their arrival here the end game is now being played out.

Read the full report and more on Sky News

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Asharq Al-Awsat Interview: British PM Gordon Brown

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has spent the last four days visiting three Gulf states as part of his efforts to lead in tackling the international financial crisis. Brown had a message of assurance to the region of his understanding of the importance to include the region in the decision-making process regarding the global economy, through reforms of bodies like the IMF. He spoke exclusively to Asharq Al-Awsat about his visit, along with his continued interest to support Iraq militarily and financially, while highlighting the importance of maintaining momentum in the Middle East Peace Process.

Royal Dutch Shell is first oil company to plan a joint venture in Basra staffed with expats

Royal Dutch Shell is to become the first big Western oil company to move large numbers of expatriate staff into Iraq to oversee its gas joint venture, The Times has learnt.

In recent weeks the Anglo-Dutch oil giant has been sounding out security companies, suppliers and logistics companies in Iraq about how to support an expatriate operation of as many as 200 people in Basra, where it has signed a preliminary deal worth up to $4 billion (£2.5 billion) to process and market natural gas.

Read the full article here on the Timeonline

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

PM Brown visits RAF in Basra

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown thanked troops with the 901 Expeditionary Air Wing stationed in the southern Iraqi province of Basra.
Brown, on a regional tour for the International Monetary Fund, told British forces in Iraq in support of Operation Telic, their Iraqi war effort, they were playing a key role in securing the war-torn country, the British Royal Air Force said.

The 901 Expeditionary Air Wing is in the region on a support mission for fixed-wing aircraft operations.

"It was good to see the prime minister here," said Cmdr. Tony Barmby. "Despite his busy program in the Middle East, I do know the prime minister insisted on making time to visit RAF and other U.K. service personnel."

Read the full article on the Middle East Times here

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Tourist park to be set up south of Basra

Under the supervision of Basra's construction unit, a local company initiated work on a project to establish a tourist park along the Shatt al-Arab waterway in the south of Basra.

The project, whose total cost is $1.7 million, will be carried out as part of the 2008 provincial development projects, the head of the unit, Engineer Ziyad Ali Fadhil, told Aswat al-Iraq.

Read the full report on

Monday, November 3, 2008

Sports complex to be set up in Basra

A local company has initiated work on a sports complex on the eastern side of the Shatt al-Arab, Basra province, according to a local official.

“The cost of the project exceeds $2.25 million and it is expected to be completed within nine months,” an official spokesperson for the Basra services and construction support committee, Rasheed al-Fahd, told Aswat al-Iraq.

The complex is to encompass playgrounds for volleyball, basketball, tennis, table tennis, weightlifting, and others, Fahd explained, adding that it will have a seating capacity of 3,000.

Click here for the Aswat al-Iraq site

Basra’s Abi al-Khaseeb hospital renovated

Under the supervision of Basra’s construction unit, a local company on Sunday initiated work on a project to renovate Abi al-Khaseeb Hospital at a cost of over 331 million dinars, according to a local official.

“Work includes the construction of two lobbies, rooms for physicians and nurses, and a large hall, and the installation of an elevator,” the head of the unit, Engineer Ziyad Ali, told Aswat al-Iraq.

For the full report on Aswat al-Iraq click here