Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Iraq signs military accords with Britain, Australia - AFP


Baghdad signed on Tuesday military accords with Britain and Australia that give their troops a legal basis to stay in Iraq after the expiry of the UN mandate on December 31, the Iraqi government said.

"With the authority of the government of Iraq given to the defence minister, an agreement was signed with Britain today which will be implemented from the start of the new year until June 30," defence ministry spokesman Major General Mohammed al-Askari told AFP.

"A little while ago an agreement was also signed regarding the withdrawal of the Australian forces in Iraq. It was signed between the Iraqi defence minister and the Australian ambassador," Askari said.

The long-awaited agreements come just a day ahead of the expiry of the UN mandate, effectively legalising the presence of non-US foreign troops in the country at the eleventh hour and moving Iraq closer to full sovereignty.

Under the agreement, Britain, which has about 4,100 troops based at Basra airport in southern Iraq, will play only a supportive role in their area.

"British troops will only support, consolidate and develop the Iraqi security forces without having any combat mission. July 31 will be the last day for the withdrawal of the British forces from Iraq," Askari said.

Iraqi defence minister Abdel Qader Mohammed Jassem Obeidi signed the separate accords with British ambassador Christopher Prentice and Australian ambassador Robert Tyson.

During a visit to Iraq on December 17, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and his Iraqi counterpart Nuri al-Maliki announced the end of the mission of the British contingent by the end of May 2009, and a total withdrawal by end July 2009.

After British troops leave next year, relations between London and Baghdad will in theory revert to those between any other country.

Read the full article on the AFP website

Iraq and UK agree to let troops stay until July - Reuters


Iraq signed agreements with Britain and Australia on Tuesday for their troops to stay in Iraq for seven months after a U.N. mandate authorizing their presence expires on January 1, Iraq's Defense Ministry said.

Ministry spokesman Mohammed al-Askari said the agreements would take effect on New Year's Day and would require the two countries' combat troops to leave Iraq by the end of July.

Britain has 4,100 troops stationed in Iraq, near the southern oil center of Basra. Australia has 300 troops.

A spokesman for the British embassy in Baghdad said: "I can confirm that we've signed an agreement which gives us all the necessary legal cover that we needed to complete our tasks here."

An Australian embassy official was not able to comment.

Iraq's Presidency Council on Sunday ratified a measure agreed by parliament allowing troops from Britain, Australia, El Salvador, Romania and Estonia and the NATO alliance to stay in Iraq until July 2009.

Bilateral agreements between Iraq and each country still needed to be finalized.

Britain, which sent 46,000 troops to the Gulf as the main U.S. ally in the 2003 invasion, intends to keep about 400 advisers and trainers in the country after the July deadline.

Askari said deals would be signed in the next few days with diplomats from other countries with small numbers of troops in the U.S.-led force in Iraq.

(Reporting by Wisam Mohammed and Peter Graff; writing by Tim Cocks; editing by Andrew Dobbie)

Click here for the Reuters website

Iraq signs foreign troops deals BBC

Iraq has signed deals with Britain and Australia for their troops to stay in the country after a UN mandate expires on 1 January, Iraq's government says.

It says the accords authorise UK and Australian forces to stay until July.

Britain has 4,100 troops based in the southern city of Basra, while Australia has 1,000 soldiers also in the south.

The US - who led the 2003 invasion into Iraq - earlier this year signed a deal with Baghdad allowing its 140,000 forces to stay until the end of 2011.

Apart from the US, UK and Australia, the only countries continuing to provide troops for the Multi-National Force - Iraq (MNF-I) are El Salvador, Estonia and Romania.

Iraqi Defence Ministry spokesman Mohammed al-Askari said on Tuesday that separate deal with those countries would be signed in the next few days.

See the article on the BBC website

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Interview: Amyas Godfrey - C4 News

Jon Snow interviews Amyas Godfrey from the Royal United Services Institute, who as a British Army officer completed two tours of Iraq, one of which was spent training the Iraqi army in Basra.

He went back there as a civilian this summer.

Expiry of UN mandate major step to Iraqi sovereignty - ABC News

Change is coming...a member of the British army climbs on an oil pipe in Basra, 2005. (AFP: Toby Melville)

A newly assertive and somewhat safer Iraq takes a major step towards securing full sovereignty on January 1, when a UN mandate that made legal the presence of foreign troops expires.

The end of the UN mandate put in place soon after the March 2003 US-led invasion means Iraq will take greater control of its own security although foreign forces will remain in the country under separate bilateral agreements.

"The main difference is that UNAMI will increasingly and gradually expect Iraqi security forces to provide security, as in any other sovereign country," Staffan de Mistura, the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) envoy, said.

The United States, which supplies 95 per cent of foreign troops in Iraq, recently signed an accord with the Iraqi government which allows its combat forces to remain in the country until the end of 2011.

The Iraqi parliament voted last week also to allow the presence of non-US foreign troops after the UN mandate expiry until no later than July 31, 2009, although it will have to sign each agreement individually.

Iraq's presidency endorsed the proposal on Sunday (local time), clearing the way for Baghdad to sign accords with Britain, Australia, Romania, Estonia and NATO before midnight on December 31, when the UN mandate expires.

El Salvador announced earlier this month that it would withdraw its 200 soldiers at the end of 2008, although the El Salvadoran minister of defence visited Iraq on Sunday to discuss an extension at the request of the Iraqis.

Britain, the next largest member of the US-led coalition, has about 4,100 troops based mainly in Basra in the south, while the other members have only a few soldiers each stationed in Iraq.

"We will first exchange letters then sign agreements," National Security advisor to Iraq's Prime Minister Mowaffak al-Rubaie said, without providing further details.

Under the terms of forces agreement signed with Washington, the United States will hand over on January 1, Saddam Hussein's former official residence to the Iraqi government after occupying the majestic sandstone palace since 2003.

The vast palace, at the very heart of the heavily fortified Green Zone where the Iraqi government and some major western countries' embassies are located, is seen by Iraqis as a symbol of the US occupation.

"Starting January 1, the control and the responsibility for security of the International Zone now resides with the government of Iraq," US military spokesman Major General David Perkins said.

"So they will be the ultimate decision-maker when it comes to things such as checkpoints and the T-walls and all that. Of course it will be done in very close coordination with the coalition forces," Major General Perkins added.

See the full article on ABC.net.au here

Monday, December 29, 2008

Iraq allows British, other foreign troops to stay - CNN

The Iraqi Presidency Council approved a resolution Sunday that will allow non-U.S. foreign troops to remain in Iraq after a U.N. mandate expires at year's end.

It was the last step for final adoption of the resolution, which won parliamentary approval Tuesday.

Iraq's main political parties hammered out the resolution a week ago, after an impasse among parliamentary factions threatened to continue beyond the December 31 deadline.

A separate, previously approved agreement authorizes U.S. troops to remain.
Britain has about 4,100 troops in Iraq, the second-largest contingent after the United States, which has about 142,500. Other countries covered under the resolution -- El Salvador, Australia, Romania and Estonia -- have a total of several hundred troops in the country.

See the full report on CNN here

Saturday, December 27, 2008

HRH The Duchess of Gloucester visits Iraq

Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Gloucester becomes the first female member of the Royal Family to visit Iraq.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Plum pudding for one: solitary colonel who flies flag for Britain in far-off land - Times

By M Evans - Times

A colonel in Bangladesh, a military adviser in Freetown, Sierra Leone, and four Royal Navy chaps in Djibouti are among nearly 17,200 personnel who will be representing the Armed Forces on operations over Christmas.

The largest contingent will be the 8,400 serving in Afghanistan. For the 4,100 in Iraq, it will be their last Christmas before the formal withdrawal of British troops attached to Operation Telic in Basra within six months.

The spread of personnel around the world shows that although frontline troops have become increasingly stretched to meet overseas commitments, the Union Jack still flutters on military flagpoles in even the remotest parts of the world.

With the focus on Basra, two defence chiefs have spoken out against what they claim to be the rewriting of history relating to what Britain had achieved in southern Iraq. They rejected the accusation that Britain failed to quell the Shia militia in Basra and had to depend on the combined US and Iraqi Operation Charge of the Knights offensive in March to release the city from the grip of the extremists.

Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup, the Chief of the Defence Staff, told the troops serving in Basra, in a special Christmas message, that the transformation of the southern city “represented the culmination of years of effort by the UK Armed Forces”.

General Sir Richard Dannatt, the Chief of the General Staff, also weighed in, dismissing claims that the British departure from Basra was less than glorious. In an interview with the BBC he said: “The British Army took possession of Basra in 2003 in an extremely skilful and successful campaign and in an ideal world we would probably not have stayed there that much longer . . . We have achieved what we set out to do.”

About 100,000 personnel have served in Iraq since 2003, of whom 178 have lost their lives through hostile action, accidents or disease.

For the full article click here for the Timesonline

Few steps left to finish Iraq-UK troop deal - Reuters

Several steps are needed before Britain and other countries with small troop forces remaining in Iraq can secure final deals permitting their presence after December 31, a British military official said on Wednesday.

The clock is ticking on the U.N. mandate that authorises Britain's 4,100 troops, along with smaller contingents from Australia, Estonia, El Salvador and NATO, to be in Iraq.

A British military spokesman, who asked to go unnamed, said Iraq's president and two vice-presidents must ratify a measure parliament passed on Tuesday empowering the government to take any steps needed to allow the troops to stay through July 2009.

"There will thus be an exchange of letters between each of the governments of the countries who will have troops remaining after 31 December and the government of Iraq," he said.

"These will outline the tasks to be performed, the number of troops and the time lines for withdrawal. This exchange of letters can take place as soon as the law is ratified."

Britain, the main U.S. ally in the 2003 invasion and which once had 45,000 troops in Iraq, intends to keep about 400 advisers and trainers in the country after the July deadline.

With a week left before the U.N. mandate expires, the last-minute manoeuvring was due to parliament's rejection last week of a draft law governing foreign troops.

Lawmakers had argued the law needed to be replaced with some sort of treaty or agreement similar in format to the bilateral pact that Washington concluded with Iraq allowing its 140,000 troops to remain through the end of 2011.

British officials have said they don't expect Britain to whisk its troops, mostly stationed around the southern oil port of Basra, out of Iraq even if there is no agreement by January 1.

(Reporting by Missy Ryan, Editing by Michael Christie)

For the full report click here for the Reuters website

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas in Basra: Yuletide for Britain's armed forces - Independent

Turkey, presents, and then a screening of 'The Great Escape': Kim Sengupta reports on the troops' final Christmas in Iraq

British troops will wake up on the last Christmas they spend in Iraq to gunfire, this much they already know. This time, however, it will not be the lethal attacks which they had been receiving for much of their five years of the conflict. Gunfire, in this case, is tea laced with whisky served by their officers and senior NCOs – a long-held custom in the armed forces. Then, after a rare free morning for most, it will be a traditional lunch with roast turkey, Christmas pudding and mince pies.

The overwhelming choice of film to watch after the Queen's speech this year is The Great Escape – to celebrate, say the soldiers, the fact that they are due to be back home by the end of July as the UK ends its engagement in the most bitter and controversial war in recent history.

In Iraq, the furthest shipment of Christmas food has been to al-Qurnah where a British unit is mentoring Iraqi forces. The village, 80 miles north-west of Basra, at the confluence of the rivers Tigris and the Euphrates, is the supposed location of the Garden of Eden.

They and other UK troops embedded with Iraqis will be visited by the commander, Major General Andy Salmon, in the course of the day in "Operation Empty Sack"' – so called because he has no presents to give them apart from reassurance that they will be going home soon. In reality there are no shortages of gifts for the troops, not just from friends and families, but also from general members of the public, with some of the parcels addressed to simply "Soldier in Basra" or "British Forces, Iraq".

Away from the rituals of Christmas, the mood among the British troops was this week quiet and reflective. Most of them have done a number of tours in Iraq and seen the fortune of war change from pensive calm in the aftermath of the invasion, to sustained violence, to the current mood of relative peace since the Shia militias who in effect took over Basra were driven out by Iraqi, American and British forces in an operation called Charge of the Knights.

The Princess of Wales's Royal Regiment had been deployed four times to the country and took part in fierce fighting against paramilitaries atAl-Amarah, in Maysan province, in 2004 when they took a number of casualties. They are currently based at the Shatt al-Arab Hotel in Basra City, training Iraqi forces.

Sitting under a Christmas tree, Lance Corporal Mathew Bignell, 22, from Southampton, said: "It is difficult to believe that we are having such a quiet Christmas. Up in Al-Amarah, we had action each day, every day.

"We genuinely did not know whether we would survive until the end of the tour. I remember a firefight where bullets were landing just few inches from my feet. We had rockets and mortar rounds landing all around us.

"Now we go out along with the Iraqis and the people are friendly, they come up and talk to you. I must admit I did not think that I would ever see this. But I am very glad that we are leaving when things are getting better. Of course I miss my family at Christmas, but that's the job and they understand that."

Click here for the full article on the Independent website

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

Iraq allows British troops to stay - Reuters


Iraq's parliament approved a measure on Tuesday that clears the way for troops from Britain, Australia and a handful of other nations to stay in Iraq after a U.N. mandate expires at year's end, a senior lawmaker said.

A vote on the measure was delayed for several days by squabbling in the parliament, whose speaker resigned just before Tuesday's vote after angering some politicians with his brash style and insults in a session last week.

"We authorize the government to take all necessary steps regarding foreign forces other than U.S. forces," said deputy parliamentary speaker Khalid al-Attiya. He said the measure approved would allow the troops to stay in Iraq through the end of July 2009.

Forces from Britain, Australia, El Salvador, Romania and Estonia and NATO have been awaiting a new arrangement to legalize their presence in Iraq after the U.N. mandate expires in little over a week.

Lawmakers said the resolution empowered the government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki to strike a deal with these countries permitting their troops to stay, without that deal having to go back to parliament for further scrutiny.

"What happened today is parliament giving its authorization to the government to make such a deal," legislator Jaber Habeeb Jaber told Reuters.

He added parliament could do this because the likely agreement sought by the government would be a memorandum of understanding rather than a full blown pact or treaty.

For the full article click here for the Reuters website

CHRISTMAS CHEER DELIVERED BY BASRA PERSONNEL


The Father Imad al Banna children’s schools of Basra received proceeds earned by a multi-national cast who played in the pantomime ‘Aladdin’ during 6 / 7 December, acted out by members of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in Basra, Iraq on 24 December 2008.

The cheque for $8300 was presented to Father Imad by the Consulate General, Mr Nigel Haywood, in a short presentation in central Basra on Thursday 24th December 2008.

Father Imad said:

“This is very good for the church and the children of Basra – we thank you very much”

The proceeds from the pantomime and the accompanying raffle will go to provide toys, medications, and food for poor children at the schools in Basra.

The Father Imad Al Banna children’s school has three facilities throughout the Basra area with about 540 students. The students, whose ages range from 3 to 5, are from varied backgrounds and learn to live and grow together as part of their experience at the school.

Although Father Imad is the Chaldean Archbishop for Basra, the school accepts children of all faiths and economic status.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

CGS on Iraq: "We have achieved what we set out to achieve"

Chief of the General Staff and head of the British Army General Sir Richard Dannatt has told the BBC that he "completely refutes" comments that British troops have failed to achieve anything in Iraq.

Speaking to the BBC yesterday, Monday 22 December 2008, Sir Richard questioned "the wisdom of some of the armchair critics" who have been vocal in the press.

He also stressed to the soldiers and their families who have taken part in the Iraq campaign that it's been worthwhile, and none of the 178 lives that have been lost have been lost in vain.

CGS said:

"We have been quite clear about what we had to do and we have done it and we are going to leave in the early part of next year because the job is done, and I want to make it absolutely clear that that is the only reason why we are going and that particularly for the servicemen involved and particularly for those who have lost their lives while they have been there and their families, they feel proud of what we have achieved. The job is done and Basra and southern Iraq is a much better place now than it was under Sadam Hussein in 2002."

Sir Richard said he completely refuted the idea that only the Iraqis and the Americans installed security in Basra:

"The fact of the matter is that the British Army took possession of Basra in 2003 in an extremely skilful and successful campaign and in an ideal world we would probably not have stayed there that much longer.

"I am reminded of the story of one of Battery Group Commanders who was approached by a elderly tribal Sheik, who said it's the third time in my life I have welcomed the British to my city but if you stay too long we will start to shoot at you. And there has been an element of having had to stay too long.

"We did not go on a unilateral basis, we were there as part of a coalition and the coalition led by the Americans had a whole range of issues to sort out across the country. And that, quite rightly, became a real focus and we continued to hold the southern flank of the operation if you like in Basra, partly because we were there may be for longer than we would otherwise ideally have liked to have been there, to provide an opportunity for the Iranians to back the Shia militias and that became an extremely uncomfortable experience.

"But our people stood up to that and resisted that extremely well."

Sir Richard said that Basra was always going to be a city sorted out by the Iraqis, and that British forces, though it had taken time, had enabled them to do that:

"It's a city of huge size, however many British troops or coalition troops have been there we would never have been able to impose a regime and we had not intention of doing that.

"It was always going to be an Iraqi solution to an Iraqi problem, and what we had to do was to enable that to happen, and that has taken a certain amount of time, but it has now happened, and the operation that started at the end of March this year ["Charge of the Knights"] was an Iraqi led operation.

"They already had control of Basra - we had given them a control at the end of last year - it's absolutely right that they did that. So Iraqis solutions to Iraqi problems was always going to be the way to solve this one."

On recent negative media comments on the British withdrawal from Iraq, Sir Richard said:

"I ponder about the wisdom of some of the armchair critics who have sat very comfortably at home while British soldiers, sailors and airmen and marines have fought with extreme valour in Basra and the south of Iraq over the last six years. Lets face it, this was all about politics in the first place, it was about regime change.

"That's a very difficult and political undertaking. We had done our part to the best of our ability. It started in politics, it will finish in politics, and in the middle is intra Shia politics."We have sensitively done what seemed right and stood back when it was right and only re-engaged also when it's right. This is not an easy situation. It has been very complex and I am really dismayed by some of the criticism that's been made particularly over this weekend, and I want to certainly re-assure the soldiers and their families who have taken part in this campaign that it has been absolutely worthwhile and the 178 lives that have been lost have not been lost in vain. We have achieved what we set out to achieve.

"We have now concluded the operation, or about to conclude the operation, in Iraq on the basis that the job is done. And I think that everyone who has been involved in that should take huge satisfaction of a difficult job that has been done well.

"And actually relatively quickly. I don't want to draw comparisons with Northern Ireland [but] it took 38 years of involvement there by the Army to bring that to a satisfactory conclusion, 14 years in Bosnia, nine years and still counting in Kosovo.

"Yet the operation in Iraq has been concluded will be concluded in six years. That is relatively quick as far as these things go. It's been complex, it's been difficult, but it's been successful and I really believe that people should recognise that and be appreciative of what our servicemen have done."

Sir Richard concluded, thanking the British people for their support to the Armed Forces throughout the operations in both Iraq and Afghanistan:

"I would like to say thank you to the British people for supporting the Armed Forces in the way they have, the way people turn out to support homecoming parades it is incredible and I am really appreciative of that."

Monday, December 22, 2008

Hutton and Stirrup respond to commentators on Iraq

Defence Secretary John Hutton and Chief of the Defence Staff Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup have written to national newspapers in response to critical media comment of Britain's military achievements in Iraq.

Mr Hutton wrote:

"As the Prime Minister announced, there will be a fundamental change of mission for UK forces in Iraq from the end of May next year, with a shift from combat operations towards a long-term defence relationship focussed on training and education. That will allow our forces to reduce from 4,100 to around 400 by the end of July.

"As we reach this point, it is not surprising that commentators are analysing what our forces have achieved over the past six years. They have achieved much, as I saw for myself a few weeks ago when I was able to have a cup of coffee in Basra's Five Mile Market along with Iraqi forces and our soldiers who are training them.

"The reason we are redeploying our forces is simple: because our mission is on the verge of completion. By the time our troops withdraw, our job will be done. If it was not, we wouldn't be going.

"Iraq today is a nation that has been changed for the better because our plans for transition have delivered. Plans which progressively built up the capabilities of the Iraqis to the point where they could take the lead in ensuring their own security.

"The scale of the challenge in Basra has been daunting. We never claimed that we alone could solve the problems of a city neglected for decades by Saddam. But by helping the Iraqis find Iraqi solutions to Iraqi problems, our Forces have achieved their aims.

"Since 2003, the UK has helped to train over 20,000 Iraqi troops and more than 22,000 police. As Dr Saleh put it: 'Today, Iraqi soldiers and police are initiating and leading operations across Iraq and are gaining the trust and support of the population.'

"That was always where we were trying to get to. We have never abandoned the Iraqis or barricaded ourselves in our bases. We have been there alongside them, offering support and advice. During Operation Charge of the Knights from the end of March, when the Iraqi forces that we trained confronted and comprehensively defeated the militias in Basra, we were with them, providing mentoring teams on the streets as well as air support, artillery, medical treatment, logistics and a lot more.

"Basra is not perfect. But compare that to the situation we discovered when we arrived in Basra in 2003. Thirty per cent of Basrawis still do not have access to piped water. In 2003, that figure was 77 per cent. There have also been huge improvements in power supply, hospitals and medical care, nutrition, school attendance and, of course, democracy.

"It is because we - working in partnership with the Iraqis we have mentored and our US and other allies - have succeeded in turning around the security situation over the past six years, that attention is now focussed on problems like water and electricity supply, litter in the streets and traffic congestion. Security now ranks fifteenth in the list of people's list of concerns.

"A place where people are thinking about such everyday matters is a place where people are not living in fear of being blown up – or, for that matter, persecuted by their own government.

"We are now seeing the sort of continuing development that will improve the standard of living of all Iraqis: building infrastructure, supporting businesses, developing key industries such as agriculture and energy, and growing the economy. As the military mission ends, the challenge now is to ensure that the business and reconstruction mission takes up the charge. There are great opportunities for British investment and I hope we take them.

"For the first time in living memory, Iraqi people can now start to benefit collectively from their country's wealth and resources, rather than see the revenue creamed off and squandered by a corrupt regime. None of this would have been possible without the extraordinary efforts and sacrifices of our service people and civilians, who can feel justifiably proud of a job well done. If that is not an achievement, then I do not know what is."

Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup wrote:

"Last week the Prime Minister announced that the UK expects to have completed its current military tasks in Iraq by the end of May next year. Consequent on that, and in line with what we have been saying for some time, we shall then move to a more normal bilateral relationship with the Iraqi Armed Forces. We shall provide assistance and training in those areas where the Iraqis judge we can continue to help: tasks that will require only a few hundred military personnel, rather than the four thousand or so we currently have deployed in country.

"It's natural that at such a pivotal moment there should be considerable debate about the whole endeavour. The analysis of the causes and courses of the Iraq campaign will no doubt occupy commentators and historians for years. But some of the views currently being expressed about the role of the British military in Basra seem to me to misunderstand the both the nature of the problem we faced there and the key to its solution.

"First the challenge. We had to get the place and the people to the point where the Basrawis could take control of their own destiny. It was not our task to set Basra to rights – that was always beyond our reach. The poverty and dereliction in the south of Iraq were the results of decades of oppression and neglect; turning the situation around was and remains a long-term project.

"Security in the city depends upon the various elements of Basrawi society being able to co-exist peacefully; reaching the necessary compromises and accommodations is a matter for the inhabitants themselves. So our job was to hold the ring until the Iraqis could take charge of their own security and create their own basis for sustainable economic growth.

"The challenge for us was to get the Basrawis to the start line; it was never possible for us to run the race for them.

"Military power was not the key to this. As in Afghanistan, so in Iraq, the military are essential to success, but cannot by themselves deliver it. We have always recognised, and repeatedly said, that in both cases the solution must be essentially political. This is nothing new for us in the military – it's almost pure Clausewitz.

"But we faced a particular problem in Basra. Our presence there provided disaffected locals with a focus for violence. It also gave the politicians an excuse for avoiding the difficult choices they needed to make: they could always blame us.

"We continued to plan aggressive operations against the militia factions in Basra City, but the Iraqi government did not want us to implement them. So we found ourselves the focus of and – in some cases – the reason for violence, but constrained from responding militarily. We had to find a way to break this deadlock.

"The answer, in our view, was to withdraw our permanently based forces from the centre of the city, and to give the Iraqis responsibility for security. Our training of the Iraqi Army had progressed well, and we judged they were up to the task. And putting them in the lead meant that the Iraqis would be forced to face up to the intra-Shia political problems that were the root cause of insecurity in Basra.

"The Iraqi government and our US partners – who faced a similar conundrum in Baghdad's Sadr City – agreed with this judgement.

"So in the second half of 2007 we passed provincial control of Basra to the Iraqis, and redeployed our forces – on our own terms, and as part of a deliberate plan. We were not driven out; we did not cede control of Basra to the militias.

"And we then worked with General Mohan, the commander sent by Baghdad to take control of Basra, on an Iraqi plan to deal with the militias; a plan agreed by the Iraqi government and US coalition leaders.

"In the early months of 2008, Prime Minister Maliki decided that he would lead this effort personally in what was called Operation Charge of the Knights. The initial stages were not as adeptly handled as we would have liked, but at last we had the commitment and political leadership that were the essential prerequisites of success – that we had been pressing for and working towards for over a year.

"Our forces, alongside their US colleagues, provided essential support. But as intended, it was essentially an Iraqi operation. And the results were exactly what we had hoped for and predicted. Charge of the Knights was both the culmination and the vindication of our plan to break the political deadlock in Basra.

"The city has been transformed as a result. Not in a physical sense: the infrastructure remains in a poor state, and unemployment is still high. But the Basrawis are now at the point where they can take responsibility for their own future with a realistic prospect of success.

"Over 1200 candidates, representing some 53 parties, will be contesting next month's provincial election. International companies are looking to invest significantly in Basra. The people have a sense of direction and hope that has been absent for decades.

"The path ahead will not be easy. Iraq has many difficult challenges still, and we cannot tell how and with what success its people will handle them. But it is their country, not ours. The challenges are theirs to face. We have helped get them to the position where they are able to do so.

"That was our mission in Basra; a mission the British military has accomplished with great courage and unsurpassed professionalism. I salute them for it, and so I believe will the British people."

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Britain's Armed Forces will leave Iraq with heads held high - Telegraph

The announcement that Britain is largely to close down its military role in Iraq by May 31, 2009, is welcome news to both this country and Iraq. It represents a most significant achievement after what will have been a very difficult and challenging six years.

By General Sir Mike Jackson

We should remember that this saga does not start in 2003, but rather in 1990 with Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait – an act of outright international aggression. After the forcible removal of his forces from Kuwait, there followed a decade and more of brutality towards his own people and defiance of at least 16 binding resolutions of the United Nations Security Council.

My purpose in writing is not to conduct yet another post-mortem of the decision to intervene militarily by the United States, the UK and some 30 other countries, but to reflect on what British forces have achieved.

The purpose of intervention is not to indulge in some latter-day military adventurism, but to help a country move out of a dark past – out of tyranny, civil war, ethnic cleansing – to a better future, a future in which the country is stable, at peace with itself and its neighbours, with a representative government, institutions being built, the rule of law being established, the economy recovering.

This is a complex and difficult task; pace the neocons, it is indeed nation-building. And it is a task for military and non-military alike. It is also true that conflict between groups such as in Bosnia in the 1990s, and the Shia and Sunni in Iraq (and wider, for that matter ) is a political phenomenon which, in the end, can only be solved politically. This cannot per se be achieved by soldiers; their job is to create the conditions for such a political solution. And all of this takes time, a rather unappreciated commodity in today’s 24/7 world. This, then, is my benchmark for judging the effectiveness of our intervention in Iraq.

The initial conventional war-fighting campaign against Saddam Hussein’s forces in southern Iraq was a tremendous military success; in particular, the taking of Basra city by 7 Armoured Brigade was a brilliant operation conducted with great finesse and fine timing. Despite the gloomy predictions of some commentators, there was no re-run of Stalingrad in either Basra or Baghdad.

The initial euphoria which followed the toppling of Saddam Hussein was short-lived, as factions within Iraq began to use violence in pursuit of their political objectives. Iraqi expectations of immediate economic improvement were understandably but unrealistically high; their frustration at not seeing this realised quickly turned to anger with the Coalition forces. This volatile situation was much exacerbated by the security vacuum created by Washington’s appalling decisions to disband the Iraqi security forces and to de-Baathify the public administration to a very low level; the latter marginalised the very people who were best placed to help. These decisions may well have doubled the time it has taken to get to where we are now. Iranian backing for Shia militants was a further difficult complication, as was the lack of a coherent reconstruction plan and the failure in Coalition capitals to understand fully the complexity of the situation.

All of this presented an enormous challenge to the Coalition, not least the British Armed Forces in the south. The Army, in particular, was fighting the classic “3-block war”: a mixture of intense firefights, benign patrolling and reconstruction projects.

The campaign became a long haul – we had to have the strategic endurance to see it through. There were tremendous successes: the referendum on the new Iraqi constitution and the subsequent elections; the avoidance of outright civil war; the long and hard efforts to bring on the new Iraqi security forces; the handover of security responsibility for our four southern provinces to the Iraqi authorities. There were drawbacks: how we dealt with the Mahdi army in Basra; allegations of abuse of Iraqi prisoners; Whitehall’s organisational difficulties in bringing an integrated single national effort to bear; the political and military friction of working within a coalition.

And there has been the tragic costs in casualties, the agony of soldiering. The bereaved and the wounded have our greatest sympathy; those deaths, those wounds, were not in vain but rather suffered in the noble cause of a better future for Iraq and, indeed, the region as a whole.

The end of Coalition involvement in Iraq was always going to be that moment when the Iraqi government concluded that it had the political and security strength to deal with its own future, that Coalition forces had done all that they could. For Britain, for the four southern Iraqi provinces, that day will be May 31, 2009, at the latest – save the probability that we will maintain a military training team as we do in many other countries. For the US and the rest of Iraq, that day will be somewhat later.

It has been a long, hard and controversial campaign, but I believe it has largely succeeded. If none of this had taken place, if Saddam Hussein had remained in despotic power – no doubt to be followed by his despicable sons – where would Iraq be? We will never know, but I cannot think that Iraq would be a better place, nor that the Iraqi people would wish for such a fate.

The British Armed Forces, as ever, have played a courageous, enduring and committed part in all this. It has been difficult, messy and challenging, but I believe they rose to that challenge in their inimitably good-humoured and professional manner. The Iraqi prime minister has thanked them generously for their part in getting Iraq to where it now is; our Forces may justifiably be proud in playing that part. We, in turn, may be justifiably proud of them – our young men and women have been at once inspirational and humbling to watch.

The struggle against those who would destroy our own way of life is by no means over. Afghanistan will require even greater strategic endurance – but I know that the British Armed Forces, I trust properly supported in every way by government and nation alike, will continue to do their duty.

General Sir Mike Jackson is a former Chief of the General Staff

Read the article on the Telegraph website

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Basra enjoys peace as British troops prepare to leave - Telegraph

By Damien McElroy, Foreign Affairs Correspondent

"Last year the situation was completely different," said Saad Al Atabi, the al-Fayhaa receptionist. "We didn't receive a single wedding booking because of the situation in our city. Now we are getting about 10 couples every week."

Less than a year ago, the city stood in thrall to the murderous power of rival gangs of militant thugs, who enforced a vicious reign of terror over anybody who dared challenge their authority.

Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi army, supported by Iran, imposed strict religious clothes on women and people avoided large gatherings in case of bomb attacks.

Now, with Basra's inhabitants once again walking the streets in comparative safety, Britain has been able to announce its withdrawal from the city after nearly six years of occupation.

The transformation is the fruit of Charge of the Knights, an Iraqi government operation in March, to wrest control of the city back from the warring gangs and clans.

It was one of the greatest successes achieved by Iraq's armed forces since Saddam Hussein's army was disbanded in summer 2003, and was followed by joint British-Iraqi patrols to maintain order.

The patrols marked an improvement in relations after the Iraqi government blamed Britain for allowing the Mahdi army to gain so much power.

While city residents are keen to assert their new found sense of normality, however, it is clear that problems still run very deep. The unemployed youths who last year joined militias are still angry and disaffected.

And although the British Army is pulling out, it will be replaced by American troops, who will be supporting Iraqi forces.

However, with greater security, city services - including the basic provision of water, electricity and rubbish collection - have improved.

"The atmosphere in Basra is no different to that in any normal Middle Eastern city," said one official serving in Basra. "Shops are open for business, roads are being mended, goods are stacked up on the pavements."

The city's once celebrated Corniche again throngs with families in the evenings. A ferris wheel turns above the Shatt al-Arab, the long water way running from the confluence of the Tigris and Euphrates down to the Gulf. Floating restaurants have been re-opened.

Read the full article on the Telegraph website

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

UK troops to leave Iraq 'by July' - BBC


Gordon Brown and Iraqi prime minister Nouri Maliki say UK forces will have "completed their tasks" and leave the country by the end of July next year.

The two leaders' joint statement came as they held talks in Baghdad before Mr Brown headed to Basra.

The UK PM praised his forces for making Iraq a "better place".

There are currently about 4,100 UK troops in Basra, southern Iraq. Between 200 to 300 military advisers are likely to remain after combat troops leave.

'New era'

The withdrawal announcement comes after at least 18 people were killed and dozens wounded in a twin bomb attack in Baghdad on Wednesday.

BBC diplomatic correspondent Paul Adams said the announcement ended months of speculation.
At a press conference, Mr Brown said: "We have agreed today that the mission will end no later than 31 May next year.
"Our troops will be coming home within the next two months [after that]."

Mr Maliki confirmed that the agreement included a provision for the Iraqi government to request an extension of the British military presence.

However, both leaders indicated it was not expected to be used.
Mr Brown said: "We have made a huge contribution and of course given people an economic stake in the future of Iraq. We leave Iraq a better place."

He added: "I am proud of the contribution British forces have made. They are the pride of Britain and the best in the world."

In their joint statement, the leaders said the role played by the UK combat forces was "drawing to a close".
Foe the full article click here for the BBC website

British PM Brown in Iraq on surprise visit: TV


British Prime Minister Gordon Brown arrived in Baghdad on Wednesday on a surprise visit expected to focus on the fate of his country's remaining troops in Iraq.

"Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki this morning welcomed his British counterpart Gordon Brown in Baghdad," state television Al-Iraqiya said.

It is Brown's fourth visit to Iraq since he took office in June last year and comes hot on the heels of a farewell trip by George W. Bush that was marked by an Iraqi journalist hurling his shoes at the US president.

London newspapers have reported that Britain intends to begin withdrawing troops in March with most out by June, although defence officials insist the precise timetable will depend on conditions on the ground at the time.

Britain has around 4,100 troops in Iraq, based at Basra airport outside the southern oil port city. They are training local troops but retain the capacity to intervene if required by Iraqi forces.
Brown's visit comes after the Iraqi cabinet approved a bill calling for all foreign soldiers except for American forces to pull out of the country by the end of July.

Citing a senior defence source, the BBC and The Times newspaper said the pullout was planned to begin in March -- six years after the US-led invasion of Iraq -- if provincial elections set for the end of January passed off peacefully.

The Ministry of Defence did not deny the reports.

"We plan -- subject to the conditions on the ground and the advice of military commanders -- to reduce our force levels in Iraq as we complete our key tasks in Basra in the early months of next year," an MoD spokesman said.

But he added: "Final decisions on the timing of the drawdown will depend on the circumstances at the time.

"We will remain committed to Iraq. We expect to move from next year towards a long-term, broad-based bilateral relationship with Iraq similar to the relationship we have with other allies in the region, including a training and education role for our military personnel."

British commanders had intended to reduce troop numbers to 2,500 earlier this year, though conditions on the ground prevented them from doing so.

On his last visit to Iraq in July, Brown spelled out four objectives to be completed before British troop numbers could be reduced.

These were finishing the training of the Iraqi army in Basra, transferring Basra airport to civilian use, aiding local economic development and providing support for the January 31 election -- the first vote in the country since 2005.

On his return, he told British parliament that he expected a "fundamental change of mission in the first months of 2009" but he expressly ruled out setting a timetable for their withdrawal.


For the story on the AFP site click here

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Iraq: after Basra, a new reality - Telegraph

By Thomas Harding

Better times have arrived in the Iraqi city - but the battle for Basra holds vital lessons for the British Army.
Tearing through Basra in the back of an Iraqi army pick-up truck last week, with no body armour and no British soldiers nearby, it struck me as the most foolish thing I had done in five years of covering southern Iraq.

On every previous visit – and I have made a score or more – it would have been evidence of a death wish to set out without a troop of heavily armoured vehicles, and a platoon of heavily armed soldiers, for company.
But even a few minutes into the drive to downtown Basra, the change in atmosphere was tangible. No longer was there a wince of fear on hearing the detonation of a bomb, or while contemplating where precisely incoming shells would land.

This week, Defence Secretary John Hutton confirmed that the situation in Iraq was “infinitely better” than a year ago, and that most of our 4,100 troops will be home by the end of June. There is, in other words, a sense that our time in the country is drawing to a close – hence the Conservatives’ renewed demand for a full inquiry into the war, once our withdrawal is complete.

So what has happened to bring a rapid end to a mission that was only recently bogged down in a quagmire of insurgency? Amid the drama of Afghanistan, the transformation of Iraq’s second city, which was given to the British to protect and administer after the fall of Saddam Hussein, has gone largely unnoticed. But it is a remarkable one.

“The highlight for me has been going into a mosque in Basra at 10pm with no body armour or pistol, when previously I’d have needed a whole battlegroup of Warriors and Challenger tanks,” Lt Col Simon Browne, whose 2006 tour with the 2nd Bn The Royal Anglians saw some of the worst urban fighting, told me. “Basra is a different city.”


For the full article click here for the Telegraph.co.uk

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

British troops to start Iraq pullout in March


By Kim Sengupta

Britain will begin withdrawing its 4,100-strong force from Iraq by the beginning of March, with almost all troops leaving within a few months, a senior defence source revealed yesterday. The Prime Minister is expected to announce the pullout that, in effect, ends the UK's engagement in one of the most controversial wars in recent times, in the Commons next January.

Most of the helicopters and unmanned Predator aircraft will be transferred to Afghanistan, and ministers will consider whether to send extra troops to Helmand for a temporary "surge" in time for the country's elections in September next year. The UK forces in Basra are to be replaced by American troops who are expected to set up their southern Iraq headquarters in the city. As well as guarding the Iranian border, the US contingent will safeguard supply lines into Iraq.

A small detachment of UK troops of about 400 will remain behind, with an officer with the rank approximating a brigadier, to train Iraqi forces. Britain will continue to train the Iraqi navy and also set up and run a staff college for officers in the country's armed forces.

Gordon Brown had said this year that there would be a "fundamental change of mission" in Iraq in 2009. The exact timetable of the withdrawal could not be formulated during negotiations with the Iraqi government of Nouri al-Maliki over the crucial Status of Force Agreement (Sofa) to work out the conditions of the troops leaving as well as those who would be staying behind. That agreement is now expected to be signed by the end of the year after approval by the Baghdad parliament.

The British military, it seems, had been moving equipment out of Iraq for some time in anticipation of the drawdown, in an operation codenamed Archive. The gradual removal of assets is designed to minimise the need for long convoys heading out of Basra towards the Iraq border which would present a target for the militias to attack.

Read the full article online at Independent.co.uk

Out by June: UK plans Iraq withdrawal - Guardian

Troops will begin pullout in March and hand over to US.

By Richard Norton-Taylor

Britain's six-year occupation of south Iraq will begin drawing to a close in March, and the last troops will leave Basra by June, a senior defence source disclosed yesterday.

But instead of handing over to Iraqi authorities, the British will be replaced at their Basra airport base by a large force of US troops, who will set up their own headquarters there, the source revealed.

The withdrawal follows months of planning and security assessments by British and American commanders. The timetable is expected to be confirmed by Gordon Brown early in the new year.

The initial rundown will be relatively modest, with the tempo increasing later, defence officials said. "It'll be very gradual, and then a fairly steep reduction," one said. By the end of June almost all the 4,000 UK troops now stationed at Basra will be gone. About 300 will remain at the request of the Iraqis to help set up colleges for officer cadets and senior staff officers, and to train the Iraqi navy.

Equipment, from tanks to tents, will be "tailored down", officials said, indicating a gradual rundown. Most of it will be transported back to Britain, in what has been named Operation Archive. The exception will be aerial surveillance drones and Merlin helicopters, which will go to Afghanistan for use by Britain's troops there.

Brown and John Hutton, defence secretary, have expressed the hope Britain's mission in Iraq will have been "fundamentally changed" by the middle of 2009.

However, this is the first time defence sources have put flesh on the withdrawal. It is now clear a crucial factor is the agreement by the US to take over Basra airport with several thousand troops. They will support Iraqi forces and protect convoys bringing supplies from Kuwait.

Read the full article on the Guardian.co.uk web site


British troops to withdraw from Iraq by June - Telegraph.co.uk

The withdrawal of the 4,000 British troops in Iraq will be completed by next June, a senior defence source has disclosed.

By Thomas Harding, Defence Correspondent

The Prime Minister is expected to make an announcement in the New Year laying out the timetable for the pull out after more than six years in the country.

While a replacement brigade of another 4,000 troops is already training to replace the current force, no decision has been made yet on whether any elements will be sent to Afghanistan.

But it is understood that the fleet of half a dozen medium list Merlin helicopters and a number of reconnaissance drones will be sent to help the fourth in Helmand almost immediately.

With the Americans formulating their final exit plans with the Iraqi Government, that will be finalised once the President-elect, Barack Obama, takes power, the British are expected to conclude the final state of their forces in Iraq in the coming weeks.

It is expected that a number of troops will remain to continue the "Sandhurst in the desert training" of Iraqi officers and a few hundred Royal Navy personnel to mentor Iraqi sailors in the port south of Basra.

The first changeover of troops is expected to begin when the headquarters of an American division headed by a two-star general takes over from the British at Basra airbase in March.

It is expected to be followed by an American brigade that will help continue training Iraqi forces and will secure the US withdrawal route south into Kuwait.

The British army's 20 Brigade has just arrived in Basra and will be the last sizeable force to deploy to Iraq with their six month tour ending at the beginning of June unless there is a major decline in security.

Much of the withdrawal strategy depends on whether the Iraqi provincial elections go off peacefully on January 31. If they do the British pull-out could happen quickly.

"The withdrawal will be a very gradual thing and then a very steep thing," the defence force said.

In the last eight months Basra city has dramatically stabilised after the Iraqi army proved it could hold its own during the Charge of the Knights Operation in which with British and American help it stamped out the insurgents.

Read the full article on the Telegraph.co.uk

UK Iraq pull-out set for March - FT

By James Blitz in London and Andrew England in Abu Dhabi

Published: December 10 2008 09:40 | Last updated: December 10 2008 13:24

Britain’s 4,100 troops in Iraq will begin withdrawing in about March in a process that should lead to their full departure by the second half of 2009, Ministry of Defence sources said on Tuesday.

Britain is looking to sign a status of forces agreement with the Iraqi government this month that would give UK forces a legal basis to stay in the country into 2009. MoD sources said they were confident a new agreement would be signed.

Read the full story on the FT.com

Monday, December 8, 2008

Soldiers swamp militias in Basra's marshes


Hidden among the reeds and tall grass lining the Shatt-Al-Arab waterway to the north of Basra, Iraqi insurgents thought they had the perfect location to launch rocket attacks at the Contingency Operating Base (COB). But British troops have taken to the water to dry up the dwindling militia threat.

Facing a losing battle against the superior firepower of the armoured vehicles they encountered in the city centre, the militiamen in Basra changed tactics and unleashed wave after wave of aerial bombardments from their marshy hideouts.

The attacks peaked in 2007 at more than 15 each day, unfortunately claiming coalition casualties along the way. But while they were partially hidden from the advances of Challenger Two tanks, the enemy fighters had not banked on the Army unleashing its strength via the water.

Using flat-bottomed mark six assault boats, troops have been dominating the waterways around Leaf Island - the area most commonly used as a firing point by insurgents - and have all but stopped the threat of indirect fire (IDF).

The basic vessels, manned over the last six months by an 11-strong troop of sappers from 32 Engineer Regiment, have been delivering dismounted soldiers from 9th/12th Royal Lancers and the 1st Battalion The Royal Regiment of Fusiliers to previously hard-to-reach locations.

And the results speak for themselves. Since setting up a forward operating base (FOB) on the banks of the Shatt-Al-Arab three months ago, the COB has suffered just one rocket attack, which originated from the city.

During a break from patrols at the newest waterside location, FOB Oxford, Warrant Officer Class 2 James Rickett, 9th/12th Royal Lancers, said:

"We needed to be able to get out onto the ground and dominate the waterways quickly."We have been in two FOBs which have been glorified hides with very low-level living conditions, but that has allowed us to have the effect we needed to have.

"The waterways are now our main focus. Dominating them means we can stop any lethal aid, interact with the local population to get intelligence and also get the Iraqi Army involved in the area.
"Touch wood, it's been very successful. As with everything else it's another part of a larger puzzle, but I like to think we have had a big effect because the IDF has reduced.

"The deployment of the assault boats does not mark the first use of Basra's waterways on Operation Telic. Bigger craft including the combat support boat and rigid raider have been deployed to police the larger channels found in and around the city centre. Because both vessels feature prominent hulls which would have struggled to negotiate the shallower, narrower stretches of water around Leaf Island, the sappers were asked to bring the smaller mark six assault boat to theatre.

With its flat bottom, simple operation and low profile, the craft has been a revelation in helping to deliver troops to previously unchartered areas:

"Using them allows us to get the dismounts into areas that would otherwise have been out of reach," said Troop Commander Lieutenant Andy Bostock, 32 Engineer Regiment."They are also more covert than having helicopters bombing in and out of the area."We used to do 36-hour stints on the water before returning to the COB, but since the construction of the FOBs they have been out longer and have had a massive impact in stopping IDF.

"The Lancers, who have been accompanied on patrols by 1st Battalion Royal Regiment of Fusiliers snipers as well as search dogs, had the chance to highlight the effectiveness of the boats during the heat of the summer.While out on patrol, the soldiers were about to sit down for a cup of tea with Leaf Island residents when a message over the radio warned of an imminent rocket attack from a nearby location.

Using the boats to reach the area, a troop led by Sergeant Jason Mawhinney, 9th/12th Royal Lancers, discovered the deadly munition with the timer still attached.

The explosive ordnance disposal team was called and three more rockets were found and destroyed, further showcasing the value of having easy access to the island:

"There is no way we would have been able to get there in time if it wasn't for the boats," said Sgt Mawhinney, adding that the operation took place in temperatures of up to 56 degrees and 85 per cent humidity, causing seven soldiers to go down with heat exhaustion.

"They [the boats] got us to the point of origin quickly and provided an outer cordon as well."
As big an impact as the boats have made on stopping the movement of lethal aid, they have also allowed the British Army to engage with previously untouched waterside communities.

Projects to build everything from football pitches to health centres have ingratiated the water-borne soldiers with the population, many of whom wave enthusiastically from the banks as the boats pass by. And by stopping the militia from using Leaf Island as a firing point, the soldiers have also helped local fishermen boost their business:

"They are very happy with us because they can actually fish at night now," explained Second Lieutenant George McCrea, 32 Engineer Regiment.

"Before they had people telling them to move on because it wasn't safe and they would have to pack up by 1800."Now they can have lights on their boats after dark and stay out until the early hours of the morning.

"The use of boats on a day-to-day basis has been something of a culture shock for soldiers used to providing an armoured infantry capability.But with rocket attacks fast becoming a distant memory and Basra's rural population enjoying a freedom impossible to imagine when the militias had free reign over the marshes, the Lancers are happy to have utilised their versatility:

"We have been well out of role considering the fact that we are normally formation reconnaissance," said WO2 Rickett."But the success we have had here highlights the strength of the Army - we can turn our hands to anything."

Sunday, December 7, 2008

General Andy Salmon - walk about in Al Qurnah


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.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, protection was provided for Maj Gen Salmon's visit by this unit.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Troops aid disabled Basra boy

WINTRY weather may be hitting football matches at home but Moray troops in Basra found themselves shying away from slide tackles as they took on local villagers in a game on a barren pitch.

The match involving 51 Squadron RAF Regiment from RAF Lossiemouth, was a sign of the improving security situation in Iraq and the bonds of friendship being formed were further strengthened as they handed over a wheelchair donated by All Mobility Highlands in Elgin to a disabled 12-year-old boy.
Until now, Rashash Muslim Al Hemdani, has had to rely on family members to carry him from one place to another within the village but the special gift will vastly improve his quality of life.

The youngster is not able to walk and has only a limited ability to communicate, but his medical condition has never been diagnosed due to the lack of medical facilities in the area.

He was spotted in the streets of his village of Al Khora where personnel from the RAF Regiment were liaising with local leaders and sheiks, and they stepped in with their offer of help.

"Today was basically people helping other people," said Squadron Leader James Lennie, who is the Officer Commanding.

"From a military perspective this helps us build stronger relationships with locals and their leaders."

Flight Lieutenant John Rees, the deputy squadron commander, added: "This is a great opportunity to improve the life of a young Iraqi through the goodwill of the people of Elgin. It is comforting for squadron personnel to know that the job we do is well supported by the public back home."

Villagers gathered around while the boy's wheelchair was adjusted to fit him by Captain Jeff Johnson, a US Army National Guardsman, who is an occupational therapist back in America.
51 Squadron are tasked with the security of the Contingency Operating Base (COB) in Basra and have built up a strong rapport with local people, leading to the sporting challenge on the football fiield.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

MiTTs: Enabling the Iraqis to take charge


Wearing soft hats and smiles, Basra's native soldiers' relaxed air as they patrol the city's streets serves as a tangible example of the upturn in security in southern Iraq. Helping them inch ever closer to assuming full control of Basra are British Military Transition Teams (MiTTs). Report by Stephen Tyler.

Operating in areas that less than a year ago would have taken several hundred men to take and hold, the Iraqis are making giant strides in convincing Basrawis that they are a force for good.

Central to that shift in opinion has been the implementation of the MiTT system by coalition troops. Already widely used by the US Army in Baghdad and by the British - in the form of OMLTs (Operational Mentor and Liaison Teams) - in Afghanistan, the concept is helping indigenous soldiers take charge of their country's destiny.

By allying a Military Transition Team to individual battalions of the Iraqi Army's 14th Division, the British enable the Basra-based soldiers to take the lead in establishing and maintaining security across the city.

Major Conrad Turpin of The Royal Scots Dragoon Guards, the man in charge of monitoring the transition project, explained that the principle behind successful 'mitting' is to take a back seat and allow the Iraqis to empower themselves by taking charge of everything from training programmes to operations:

"Training is a very small part of mitting," he said. "It's more about living alongside the Iraqi Army and providing support as and when they need it. We are not here to be overseers and instructors, we are here to enable them to succeed.

"Ultimately our aim is to grow and develop the 14th Division to the point where they are able to cope without us and act fully on their own. Our first job out here was to learn from them what they do and how they do it because we are not trying to impose the British way onto them. It's Iraqi-led and we have to ensure that they succeed. If they don't, the populace won't support them and they will have lost Basra."

The success of mitting is clear to see in and around Basra's southern suburbs.
Deep in territory once ruled by trigger-happy militiamen sits a bombed-out hotel that now serves as the base for a company of 50 Brigade Iraqi troops.

From their adopted home - which was a Jaish Al Mahdi stronghold less than a year ago - the soldiers carry out patrols and conduct training under a MiTT relationship with 4th Battalion The Royal Regiment of Scotland.

Major Toby Christie, Officer Commanding, was quick to dispel any notions that the Iraqis were anything other than well-trained soldiers dedicated to securing a peaceful future for their country:
"There seems to be an impression that they are a bunch of boy scouts, but they are not," he said.
"They are professional and capable and in Operation Charge of the Knights they fought through the city like a bunch of devils."

Further evidence of the inroads mitting is making in the peace process is not hard to find. The palpable sense of danger that engulfed Basra just half-a-year ago has lifted and the locals are returning to some semblance of normality in their day-to-day lives.

Perhaps inevitably for a city that has known little other than firefights and explosions in its recent history, the streets and buildings bear the scars of battle. But with the damage comes the need for regeneration and the demand for repairs and for new equipment has given the Iraqis another chance to win favour with the population.

Military Transition Teams visit neighbourhoods within their areas to look for improvements that need to be made and are then able to apply for coalition cash to get the work done.

Local labour and material is used wherever possible and the resulting boost to both the communities and the economy is helping to turn even more hearts and minds round to the Army's way of thinking:

"We have helped with Iraqi-identified support projects like improving sewerage and drainage to win influence in the communities," continued Major Christie. "That has enabled them to learn from the process and carry out their own influence operations. It's exhausting and hard work and frustrations arise because of the cultural and language barrier, but it's been a challenge that has provided clear results after six months."

From a base in the heart of Basra, soldiers from 2nd Battalion The Royal Anglian Regiment and 9th/12th Royal Lancers have also been impressed with the increasing ability of their Iraqi counterparts.

During a dawn patrol which took troops past curious crowds of children making their way to school in unprecedented safety, Major Bev Allen of 2nd Battalion The Royal Anglian Regiment said he was pleasantly surprised with the professionalism of the 1st Battalion 51 Brigade Iraqi troops working in his MiTT:

"For me, the perception before I came was that we would be dealing with an amateur army who were not capable of operating successfully on their own," he said. "I'm glad to say that myth has been blown out of the water.

"We have done a lot of influence work and I think the Iraqis are more than capable of taking things forward. It has been a very good tour."

The infectious faith in Iraq's soldiers is spreading across the south of the country largely thanks to the support and guidance of the Military Transition Teams.

And although the Iraqi Army still has some way to go before it is ready to assume full control of Basra, Major Christie said the MiTT system has helped the Middle Eastern soldiers inch closer than ever before:

"It's still not a bed of roses and it would be mad to suggest it is," he concluded. "But things are moving fast and the city is certainly very optimistic."

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Britain and Iraq to sign security pact

London has affirmed that a comprehensive agreement with Baghdad is at hand similar to the US-Iraq security pact and the framework agreement.

It has announced that London plans to withdraw British troops from Iraq and keep a specified number of troops to train Iraqi Forces, British Cabinet John Wilkes said. In a phone conversation with Al Sabah Newspaper from his headquarters in London, he affirmed that the British Cabinet is negotiating with Iraqi Government to hold a bilateral agreement similar to US-Iraq security pact.

Wilkes added that Baghdad and London will end negotiations on the agreement within the coming days stressing on the necessity of the pact since UN expires at the end of the coming month. He noted that British officials especially Prime Minister Gordon Brown expect a serious change on the presence of UK troops in Iraq in anticipation to shifting the military presence into a civil role and developing relations in economic, educational, industrial, cultural and investment fields.

According to Wilkes, upon the request of the Iraqi Government, a limited number of UK troops will remain in Iraq to train and rehabilitate the Iraqi Army 14th Division in Basra as well as to upgrade the Navy in Southern Iraq affirming at the same time that London needs a legal coverage to stay in Iraq in line with normal bilateral relations.

As for the number of troops remaining in Iraq, British Cabinet spokesman said there is no definite number yet noting that London expects a major drop in the number of UK troops. He asserted as well that the pact with Baghdad will not be passed to the British Parliament and there is no need to vote on it especially that it will be concluded between the Iraqi and British Governments paving the way for a new phase of relations.

Read the article on Alsumaria here

Monday, December 1, 2008

Saddam's palace may help restore civic pride to Basra

British back regeneration plan to transform lakeside residence into museum

The battered shell of a once opulent waterside palace built by Saddam Hussein may be restored as a new museum for the ancient port of Basra, with help from the British Army and the British Museum.

Final approval for the project has yet to be given by the Iraqi prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, the Art Newspaper reports this week, but army and museum experts have visited the site with officials from the Iraqi culture ministry. They have agreed that the building's grandeur, and its beautiful setting beside a lake and overlooking the Shatt al-Arab waterway, make it the ideal place for a museum that would also help to revitalise and restore pride in Basra. The British army could provide technical and engineering advice, while the British Museum would be able to offer support on display techniques and possibly even staff training.

"We did ask if people would be troubled by its association with Saddam, and our Iraqi friends told us that while some would, many others would be pleased to see it put to such a use," said Major Hugo Clark, who is in charge of the heritage section of the army's restoration programme. "In the bigger picture, the building's association with Saddam is itself part of the country's history."

Read the full story on the Guardian website