Sunday, March 29, 2009

Iraqi Army host farewell feast for departing British Forces

General Mohammed, the commander of Iraqi Security Forces in Basra, Iraq’s second city, hosted a farewell feast for the British Forces who will begin their drawdown from Iraq in early April. The feast took place today at the Basra Operations Centre next to the Shatt al Arab waterway in the north of the city.

Major General Andy Salmon, a Royal Marine Commando and commander of the British in South East Iraq, joined General Mohammed and over 250 guests including many key figures from the Iraqi security forces and provincial government.

“I would like to thank the British nation through General Andy for helping rid us of a dictator. The Iraqi Army and people will remember the sacrifices of the British for many years to come,” said General Hawedi Mohammed, Commander of Basra, through an interpreter.

The feast is the first of a number of events that mark the beginning of the departure of British and American combat troops from Iraq. Over the summer the British 20th Armoured Brigade will redeploy back to Germany and two US combat brigades of over 12,000 soldiers will head home signalling the start of a significant transition of coalition forces in Iraq.

“This is a moment to celebrate. That is why we are here. We need to celebrate the achievements of the Iraqi Army and the Iraqi Police and all the members of the Iraqi Security Forces,” said Major General Andy Salmon.

“Over the last year we have seen the impact of that these very brave men and women have had on Basra and the security in the province.”

“We need to praise the faith of the people of Basra because they put their trust in the Iraqi Security Forces. They turned their back on the militia and violence and they decided they wanted to do something about their future. So they took part in some very successful elections which were free and fair.

“As we sit here now having completed the military tasks we look to the future with a huge amount of optimism which I think reflects the way the people now view life in Basra.”

Britain's role in training and mentoring the 14th Iraqi Army Division is done and the Iraqis are organising and conducting their own operations with minimal British support. Basra is secure and resilient and this has been achieved through the efforts of the Iraqi Security Forces, supported by British and American training teams.

Over the past six years the coalition has worked hard to deliver security to the economic heart of Iraq which has already started to see the benefit of investment and economic growth.

“The people just want, what anyone wants around the world. A future for their children, they want jobs, the delivery of essential services, investment and they want a prosperous future and to live their lives in a normal way, in a way that they haven’t been able to do for the last thirty years,” said Major General Andy Salmon.

Major General Andy Salmon together with his staff will be the first troops to leave Basra. The rest of the British combat troops will leave Iraq by the 31st of July.
Maj Gen Michael Oates said the American military would "pick up where the British forces have left off" in Basra.
"British forces have been our best allies throughout this campaign, and our relationship in several tours that I have had here, has been nothing short of outstanding partnership," he said.
"So it's a bitter-sweet day for me to have them leave, but I'm enormously proud of them, and I think the people of Great Britain should be very proud of their Army. They've done an outstanding job in Basra."

Whilst the combat mission in Iraq will come to an end, Britain is currently discussing with the Iraqi Government what residual capabilities will remain.

Prime Minister Maliki and his senior generals have stated that they would be keen for some training and other specialist tasks to continue into the future.

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