By James Kirkup in Basra
Maj Gen Andy Salmon told The Daily Telegraph that following months of steady improvements in the security situation in Iraq's second city, the rate of violent crime and murder in Basra has fallen below some major British cities.
"On a per capita basis, if you look at the violence statistics, it is less dangerous than Manchester," he said, hailing a "radical transformation" in Iraq's prospects.
Since an Iraqi government offensive largely routed violent insurgent groups in Basra last May, British officials in Iraq say that the city has become ever more secure and stable and the Iraqi security forces increasingly competent.
In the latest sign of progress after years of insurgent attacks on British and Iraqi forces, local elections last month passed off without significant violence.
"In a nutshell, Basra is stable," said Maj Gen Salmon.
The general, a Royal Marine Commando, also jokingly compared Basra and Stockwell in south London where he once lived. Asked where he would rather spend a Saturday night, he replied: "Downtown Basra, in the restaurants, enjoying myself."
He said: "It's pretty normal down there: people going about their business, the nights bustle, people are enjoying themselves, kids are playing in parks. People are concerned about the normal things you'd be concerned by: jobs, the delivery of essential services, their future prosperity."
The improved security situation was witnessed by Bob Ainsworth, the Armed Forces minister, who this week visited Basra. Previously, visiting ministers have been confined to secure military bases, but Mr Ainsworth was able to walk the streets of the city and meet locals.
Almost every one of the Iraqis Mr Ainsworth spoke to named the economy and unemployment as their main concern instead of the security worries that predominated in earlier years.
Mr Ainsworth said he had seen "nothing but progress" on his visit and said his walkabout was proof that Basra has been transformed.
He said he was concerned that British people did not realise how much southern Iraq has changed in recent months. "Most people back home haven't caught up with the reality of what has gone on on the ground," he said.
Maj Gen Salmon said the improving security situation is largely down to the presence of very large Iraqi army and police forces: there are more than 30,000 Iraqi security forces in a city of more than 2 million. He said: "The risks are diminishing on a monthly basis. Security, as far as the population is concerned, has ceased to be a concern."
According to British military estimates, the murder rate in Basra fell from 22 in October to 11 in January. Only one of January's deaths has been linked to extremist groups; the rest were "old-fashioned" crimes.
Maj Gen Salmon will be Britain's last general officer commanding forces in Iraq. Starting next month, he will oversee the withdrawal of all but around 400 troops who will remain to train Iraqi forces.
Accepting that the British presence in Iraq since the 2003 invasion has been intensely controversial, the general insisted that the results are now positive.
"We have been through some ups and downs, but the fact is, we have stayed and endured and we have ridden the ups and downs," he said. "We had an opportunity to get behind the Iraqis, get them on their feet. That's what we have done."
After the UK "drawdown," the main British base outside Basra will be taken over by American forces.
Maj Gen Salmon was insistent that there is no question of the British leaving with tasks unfinished, forcing the Americans to take over their work.
Both Basra and Greater Manchester have around 2.5 million people.
According to Greater Manchester Police, there were 46 murders in Greater Manchester in the last 11 months of 2008 alone.
However, the total number of violent attacks was 6.4 per cent down on the previous year.
The number of robberies increased. Between April and June 2008 here were 270 such crimes, compared to 285 between July and September.