Thursday, March 19, 2009

Warwick and Birmingham parades for Iraqi returnees

Birmingham troops serving in Iraq are set to have a series homecoming parades in the Midlands despite security fears, it emerged yesterday.

The Queens Royal Hussars, who mainly recruit from the West Midlands and Northern Ireland, were refused a homecoming parade in Ireland amid fears over counter-parades and protests.
Security levels were heightened after Sapper Mark Quinsey, aged 23, of Yardley Wood, was murdered outside the Masereene Baracks in Northern Ireland along with another British soldier less than two weeks ago.

But yesterday top-ranking army officers revealed that the Hussars would receive a homecoming in Warwick and the Royal Artillery, nicknamed “The West Midlands Gunners”, will be greeted with a freedom of the city parade in Birmingham. Both regiments are serving in Iraq and will be among the final British troops to pull out of Basra this summer.

Queens Royal Hussars Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Colonel Chris Coles, of Tenbury in Worcestershire, said: “In 2007 our regiment paraded through Birmingham and we received a magnificent welcome.

“It is a huge morale-booster for our troops knowing that they will come home and be able to share their experience with people from their home towns. It is a fantastic sight to see the boys with their chins up and their chests puffed out in front of so many people. You can see just how much it means to them.”

It is believed that planning of such parades begins months in advance as Birmingham City Council has to arrange road closures and traffic diversions. But the exact details of the parade, including the route, date and time, are kept secret for as long as possible in a bid to curb potential protests. Soldiers who paraded through Luton this month were met by protests from the Muslim community.

A small band of people held up placards saying “Butchers of Basra” while shouting and jeering at the troops as they marched through the city.

But reaction to British soldiers in Basra has been overwhelmingly positive.

Brigade Commander, Brigadier Bilal, of the Iraqi Army, said: “The good reputation that the Iraqi Army has in Basra has come from the joint work of both armies. We have learnt a lot from the British mentoring and we will continue to be a professional outfit when they leave.

“There are tribal differences in Iraq but when it comes to the law and security everybody is equal.

Midlands soldiers, who work alongside Iraqi troops on a daily basis from the brigade headquarters in Thar Allah revealed how important it was for them to have the support of people at home, Trooper Peter Shaw, aged 24, of Kidderminster, said: “We should be treated like we have done a good job so when we are away we can look forward to coming home.

We want to be able to go out and hold our heads high without worrying about protests. Homecoming parades make it all worthwhile.”

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