Friday, May 1, 2009
All yours ... Britain's Brigadier Tom Beckett, right, and US Colonel Butch Kievanaar shake hands at the handover in Basra
From TOM NEWTON DUNN
Defence Editor, in Basra
BRITAIN’S military mission in southern Iraq ended yesterday — and Our Boys and Girls were told: “It’s time to go home.”
The historic announcement means the troops can leave a month earlier than planned.
The fight to topple Saddam Hussein, defeat insurgent fanatics and secure Basra has lasted six years, one month and 11 days — a month longer than World War Two. It also cost the country 179 killed and around 1,000 wounded. An estimated 300 of the wounded are crippled for life.
All 4,100 UK troops still in Iraq were ordered to return to their HQ at Basra airport by midnight last night.
The first combat troops left early this morning but the withdrawal of armoured units via Kuwaiti ports is expected to take a month. Defence Secretary John Hutton and UK, US and Iraqi top brass looked on as Brigadier Tom Beckett handed over control of Iraq’s second city to an American colonel.
A poignant memorial service was held for the fallen.
A lone piper played as all their names and dates of death were read out by representatives of their 40 units.
The list began with Royal Navy Operator Mechanic Ian Seymour, who was killed aged 29 in a helicopter crash on March 21, 2003 — the first night of the invasion.
It ended with Private Ryan Wrathall, 21, who died on February 12 this year.
Army padre Father Paschal Hanrahan said: “Each name is unique, a husband, a wife, a father, a mother. Each was a colleague or a mate who we knew we could rely on, who put their lives on the line.”
There were tears on the faces of many listening.
Then the Last Post was played and a single Tornado jet flew low overhead, dipping its wings in tribute.
The moment forces families have waited for came with the lowering of the British flag and a handshake between Brigadier Beckett and US Army Colonel Butch Kievanaar.
Brig Beckett, boss of 20 Armoured Brigade, said: “We leave knowing we have done our job and done it well.”
The Iraqi Army will take over security following the biggest British military withdrawal since the Korean War.
As they packed, happy troops told of their relief.
Sgt Karl Thompson, 29, from Cornwall, completed four six-month Iraq tours, including the original invasion.
The 5th Battalion Riflesman said: “Today feels good. I can go home knowing I’m not going to come out here again. I lost a friend here in 2006.”
Four hundred British military advisors will stay in Iraq.
Well over 100,000 Brits have served in the country and the mission has cost £8billion.
Defence Secretary Mr Hutton told The Sun: “Basra has been left a better place than the critics and cynics said it would have been. That is why today is a day of pride.” Chief of the Defence Staff Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup said: “Every one of the sailors, marines, soldiers and airmen and their families can feel proud.”
And General Sir Richard Dannatt sent a message, saying: “It has been the courage, sense of purpose, and sheer grit of the British soldier that has underpinned this success.
"I am immensely grateful for your commitment, and the support and patience of your families and friends.”