The commander of UK Amphibious Forces, Major General Andy Salmon from Wellington, acknowledged there had been “ups and downs” for UK forces in Iraq but insisted it was “a successful conclusion to a long campaign”.
“I can put my hand on my heart and say we’ve finished this right,” he said.
The handover ceremony yesterday saw the pennant of Maj Gen Salmon’s Combined Amphibious Forces being lowered and the pennant of the US Army’s 10th Mountain Division raised.
Earlier speaking on the Radio 4 Today programme, Maj Gen Salmon talked of leaving the Middle East with some sense of satisfaction.
He said: “If you look at the situation that we see now in Basra and you ask the Basrawis what they feel about it, for those who are old enough to realise and compare it with the past gloom of Saddam’s era, they look back to 30 years ago and say, you know, ‘we’re seeing stability that we haven’t had before, we’re seeing levels of freedom that we haven’t had before’.”
But he also talked of the difficulties British troops have faced.
He added: “It’s been very testing, we had an insurgency materialise, violence on steroids if you like – levels of violence that I don’t think any of us were going to think were possible when we came here in 2003.”
US Army Major General Michael Oates assumed command of coalition forces in Basra as part of a new Multi-National Division (South) region in Iraq.
Since the US-led invasion, 179 British personnel have died in Iraq.
More than 4,100 British troops are still in Iraq but they will stop combat operations on May 31 and all but about 400 of them will gradually be withdrawn by July 31.