Thursday, April 30, 2009
The 179 British personnel killed in Iraq have been honoured in a memorial service in Basra.
Defence Secretary John Hutton flew into the city for the ceremony as the bulk of the 3,700 UK servicemen and women remaining in Iraq were preparing to end combat operations and fly home after six years.
Mr Hutton attended a ceremony at the memorial wall in front of 20th Armoured Brigade headquarters on the main coalition military base in Basra.
The names of all the British, Italian, Dutch, Danish, American and Romanian troops and the civilian contractors killed since 2003 during Operation Telic - the UK military mission in Iraq - were read out.
This week British troops have been carrying out their final patrols outside the base in Basra before handing over to the US military.
The end of combat missions will be another major landmark in a controversial and bloody campaign that has lasted longer than each of the two World Wars.
A major Iraqi Army-led operation against militias in Basra city known as Charge of the Knights, which began in March last year, has resulted in far fewer insurgent attacks. But there are still signs of underlying tensions.
On Tuesday night an Iraqi soldier was attacked while on patrol with a small group of journalists in the deprived Hyyaniyah area of Basra city.
Even after the formal end of offensive operations involving British troops, they will retain the right to defend themselves and their convoys if they come under attack.
The UK handed military control of coalition troops in Basra to the US Army at the end of March. All but about 400 of the remaining British troops in Iraq will be withdrawn by July 31.