Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Iraqi army ready to take control of Basra

In Basra, reporter Paul Bradley joined the British and Iraqi Armies on patrol in the heart of the war-torn city. After six years in the country the Iraqis are preparing to take responsibility for security when the Brits leave in the summer.

The Iraqi army is now in a position to take control of Basra without the help of British troops, a senior Iraqi Army officer said yesterday.

In an interview with the Birmingham Post from his compound in Basra city, the intelligence officer, who did not wish to be named, said the Iraqi army is now “80 percent of the way there” when it comes to security.

But he added that there was still plenty of work to be done after the British troops leave, as terrorists from neighbouring countries crossed the “unsecure” borders and used new explosive devices to disrupt the peace.

Since the Charge of the Knights offensive in March 2008, a major operation to clear the city of terrorist factions, British troops have been mentoring the Iraqi Army in Basra.

The Queen’s Royal Hussars, who mainly come from the West Midlands, took up the role in November and are now preparing to hand over to the Iraqi Army for the first time.

They have taught the Iraqi soldiers how to patrol effectively, carry out operations to seize weapons and arrest insurgents, and set up check points in a bid to prevent rocket attacks.

Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Colonel Chris Coles, from Tenbury, Worcestershire, said: “The Iraqi Army are now well in control of things here and we are only needed to go out and support them now.

“It is no longer on a level where we teach the Iraqi soldiers how to do their job.

“It’s strategic guidance on a one-to-one level at the top end of the hierarchy.

“It’s a testament both to the Iraqis and the British soldiers that the Iraqi Army are so widely supported by the Iraqi people. They know that the Iraqi Army will come down extremely heavily on anyone who fires a rocket in the city.

“We are confident that they are ready for us to leave and that they have a very good handle on security.”

Getting the city up and running on a civilian level is a primary aim.

Although a lot of work has been done building schools, orphanages and even football pitches, the British Army want the Iraqis to have their “fingerprints” on the reconstruction of the city.

The senior Iraqi intelligence officer, added: “Under Saddam Hussein we had no satellites, mobile phones or internet.

“Now we have all of those things.

“People are not afraid to express themselves anymore and they feel happy criticising the Government.

“That was impossible before 2003.

“Even in the army, under Saddam, soldiers did not know why they were fighting or what for.”

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