Wednesday, April 1, 2009
BRITISH forces handed military command in southern Iraq to the United States yesterday, in a ceremony marking the beginning of the end of the UK's controversial involvement in the country.
Senior British, US and Iraqi generals flew into Basra for an event that celebrated the "enormous success" of UK troops, but it was tinged with sadness at the loss of life involved.
Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup, the head of Britain's armed forces, paid tribute to the 179 British personnel – 19 from Scotland – who have been killed since the 2003 invasion.
"We remember particularly at such a time those who paid the ultimate price in this endeavour, those who suffered injury and disablement in order that we might get to this point today," Sir Jock said.
The ceremony, at Basra International Airport, represented a landmark on the road towards the final withdrawal this summer of nearly all of the 4,100 UK troops still in Iraq.
Major-General Andy Salmon, of the Royal Marines, formally handed command in Basra to his US army counterpart, Major-General Michael Oates.
Sir Jock, the Chief of the Defence Staff, told invited dignitaries that the move signified the end of a phase in the UK's engagement in a "great endeavour" in Iraq.
"This occasion is about much more than the transfer of that command from one individual to another, important though that is," he said.
"This occasion is about the countless numbers of young men and women from the far-flung corners of the United States, from the various reaches of the British Isles, who have together striven here with such dedication, with such commitment and with such courage over so long a period.
"It's about the effort they put in, it's about the difficulties they overcame, it's about the losses they suffered."
Sir Jock went on: "In particular, and above all, it's about the Iraqi people. This whole endeavour has always been about the Iraqi people."
General Ray Odierno, the most senior US commander in Iraq, said the fact the handover was taking place was a "testament to the enormous success of the UK forces".
He said: "Although it is never easy to say goodbye to great friends, the stronger and more important emotion today is gratitude.
"I am grateful not only for the outstanding accomplishments of the brave troopers of the United Kingdom, but for the courage and selfless dedication of all the United Kingdom forces who served in Iraq, and for the unwavering commitment of the British people in the cause of liberty around the world.
"The accomplishments of the British forces across Iraq, and especially here in Basra, have been nothing short of brilliant."
British combat operations in Iraq end on 31 May, and all but about 400 of the UK's troops will be withdrawn by 31 July.
General Nasier Abadi, the deputy chief of staff of the Iraqi forces, said the people of Iraq would not forget the UK service personnel killed there.
"On behalf of all the Iraqis, I thank the United Kingdom for the hard work and sacrifice that helped bring peace and stability to Iraq's second city," he said.
He said security in Basra had been "transformed".
Maj-Gen Salmon said coalition forces had spilt blood together on the streets of Basra to improve the security situation.
"Basra bears little resemblance to the place that I came to eight months ago with my headquarters," he said.
Maj-Gen Oates said: "It's an honour to serve with Andy Salmon and the British military contingent, and to call them allies, friends and partners in service to Iraq."
Salmon tribute to thank the British troops
MAJOR-GENERAL Andy Salmon, head of the coalition forces in Basra, has been presented with a golden jewel encrusted ornamental fish – a salmon, naturally.
A celebration feast took place in a Basra hotel and was laid on by Iraqis to thank the British for their involvement in the country over the past six years.
The feast, at Basra Operations Command in the former Shatt Al Arab Hotel, was attended by local Iraqi dignitaries including senior army and police officers, sheikhs and religious leaders.
The feast opened with a performance by the Royal Marines Band, based at HMS Raleigh in Torpoint, Cornwall, who flew to Iraq especially for the event.
After speeches the guests packed into the hotel's former ballroom to dine.
Maj-Gen Salmon was also presented with a golden camel.
Posted by Media Ops Blog at 17:05