After six years in which Britain has been regarded as friend and foe, liberator and occupier, the army's formal withdrawal from Iraq began yesterday when it handed over its last remaining command post in Basra, the base at the Shat al-Arab hotel.
Tomorrow, the army will surrender its main base to the US army, clearing the way for a full withdrawal by early summer and bringing to an end one of the army's most testing operations since the end of the second world war.
Yesterday's ceremony included a Royal Marine band flown in from Cornwall, playing for an audience of sheikhs and security chiefs, and an exchange of gifts.
The magnificent golden salmon was given to Major General Andy Salmon, who transferred power to an Iraqi division, which the British army has mentored for the last two years. He paid tribute to the recent provincial elections in Iraq which were hailed as a democratic success, despite claims of vote-rigging and a new inquiry into the conduct of some candidates by the Iraqi integrity commission.
He also claimed British troops could be proud of producing a "successful conclusion" to the Iraq war and said the decision to topple Saddam Hussein was right. "We stayed the course and we endured and we partnered with everybody and seized our opportunities and adapted along the way," he said.
"I can put my hand on my heart and say we finished this right. I can also say that we've been through some difficult times and emerged from them. Everyone here has. But we can all hold our heads up high and say it was worth it."
The army has insisted over the last 18 months that the Iraqi army is a far different outfit to the military it took on during the invasion of 2003. It also claims Basra is safer and stable - two achievements that pave the way for an exit.
However, the American military will step into the void left by the British departure, a move that casts a shadow over claims by Downing Street and Whitehall that the job has been done.
The Iraqi army has been conducting patrols on its own for 10 months and will still host British forces at the Shat al-Arab hotel until July. Only a skeleton British crew will remain at the once grand riverside hotel which now stands in partial ruins.
As the British and Iraqi dignitaries gathered, a bomb exploded near a key oil installation in southern Iraq, killing three police officers and three civilians. Violence has decreased sharply throughout southern Iraq, but occasionally flares up to coincide with high-profile events.
A total of 179 British troops have died in the conflict. The new commanding officer for Basra, Major General Mohammed, paid tribute to them, claiming their sacrifices had made a marked difference in the south. "The British leave us as friends," he said. "They should be proud of what they have achieved. They have won our respect and are very much appreciated for their efforts by the people of Iraq."
The senior US military command will formally take control of the airport on Tuesday. Whitehall has said it will gradually withdraw all troops between now and then but has not provided timelines.
The handovers formally move the British army from a lead partner in southern Iraq to a secondary force, though combat units will remain battle-ready as the remaining 100 British troops trickle away between now and the end of July. They are the first key markers of the end of a campaign that has long fought for legitimacy in the British public's psyche amid ongoing doubts about its validity and outcome.