Friday, February 6, 2009

Armed Forces Minister sees a secure Basra

Armed Forces Minister Bob Ainsworth visited downtown Basra this week to see for himself how UK forces have helped to transform the city.

During his visit Mr Ainsworth personally thanked members of The Princess of Wales's Royal Regiment and 26 Regiment Royal Artillery for their continued contribution as Military Transition Teams or 'MITTs' operating in Basra, mentoring their Iraqi counterparts. He also met some key Iraqi officials, including General Mohammed, the top officer commanding Iraqi forces in Basra.

2009 is a milestone year for Iraq. It is the first time that provincial and local elections are taking place that are entirely Iraqi-run, with Iraqi Security Forces providing the security. This is also the first time an Iraqi election has been run under an 'open list' system, resulting in new faces and, in particular, younger candidates.

Mr Ainsworth said:

"I came here a year ago and Basra was still a troubled place. It is now a testament to the success of the UK's transition strategy that Iraqis are solving Iraqi problems and Basra is now a secure city.

"Democracy is flourishing and people can now go about their daily business. I have seen that today with my own eyes. Our task was to get them to the point where Iraqis had a realistic prospect of success; to improve the situation on the ground while helping to train strong and credible security forces. UK personnel have made a fantastic contribution to the progress seen today in Iraq, and their sacrifices and efforts will be remembered."

Mr Ainsworth's visit coincides with the Iraqi provincial voting earlier this week. He was keen to speak to Iraqis, officials and commanders about their continued, combined efforts towards building on the economy, governance and military development.

During the visit he met with MITT teams on a city tour in Basra and spoke to personnel at Basra Palace. Mr Ainsworth was also flown by helicopter to the Basra Operations Centre, where the Iraqis co-ordinate and run their security activities.

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