Thursday, April 30, 2009
The Prime Minister has announced plans to “strengthen and deepen” the relationship between Iraq and the UK as combat operations draw to a close.
Gordon Brown said British combat patrols in Basra are coming to an end and armed forces are now preparing to withdraw.
The PM welcomed Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki to Downing Street this morning where the two leaders held talks and signed a declaration of friendship and co-operation.
The names of British servicemen who died in Iraq have been read out at a memorial service in Basra
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 All but about 400 of the remaining British troops in Iraq will be withdrawn by July 31.
British troops are drawing near to the end of combat operations in Iraq after more than six years in the country.
The final withdrawal of the bulk of the 3,700 UK servicemen and women remaining in Iraq will speed up in the coming days and weeks.
This week British forces have been carrying out some of their final patrols outside the main coalition military base in Basra, southern Iraq, before handing over to the US military.
The end of combat missions will be another major landmark in a controversial and bloody military campaign that has lasted longer than the Second World War.
Britain's participation in the US-led war in Iraq has come at great cost: since the 2003 invasion toppling Saddam Hussein, 179 British personnel have lost their lives and many more have been injured.
The security situation in Basra province, where most UK forces are based, has improved significantly in the past year.
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. A man came up behind him and tried to slit his throat, but the soldier caught the assailant, threw him to the ground and fired two shots at his head, according to witnesses.
The British military is keen to focus attention away from the bloodshed over the past six years, and towards the improvements achieved on the ground in Basra.
The UK handed military control of coalition troops in Basra to the US Army at the end of March, and all but about 400 of the remaining British troops in Iraq will be withdrawn by July 31.
The end of the UK's military presence in Iraq is imminent after six years.
A memorial service is taking place in Basra for the 179 British personnel who have died during the conflict, attended by Defence Secretary John Hutton.
The focus is a memorial wall featuring the names of the 234 British and foreign troops who lost their lives on the UK-led operation in Iraq.
Defence officials say plans for the withdrawal of British forces in Iraq are well advanced.
They began their official pull-out last month when the UK's commander in the south of the country, Maj Gen Andy Salmon, handed over to a US general.
British troops took a step closer to withdrawal at the start of the year when Basra International Airport - used as a UK military base during the conflict - was passed to full Iraqi control.
The names of those who died on the UK's Operation Telic were read out at the memorial service, including Italian, Dutch, Danish, American and Romanian troops.
BBC News defence correspondent Caroline Wyatt says there is a sense of relief for many British servicemen and women that their final tour of Iraq is winding down.
Some are now serving on their fourth tour, taking them away from home for two years out of the last six.
Our correspondent says many of them will look back with mixed emotions.
Southern Iraq is more peaceful than it was a year ago but when British forces invaded Iraq as part of the US-led coalition in 2003 few people imagined troops would still be in the country six years later.
As British forces prepare to leave Iraq, senior commanders admit they have learned lessons from the campaign.
It was a conflict that showed the strengths and weaknesses of the British armed forces.
There were acts of great heroism but also a force that came under great strain, fighting on two fronts - in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Asked about the UK presence in Iraq, the country's president, Jalal Talabani, told BBC News: "This is a mission of liberation. For the first time British forces in Iraq are playing this role.
"In the past the British forces came to occupy against the will of the Iraqi people. This time they came here to liberate Iraqi people from the worst kind of dictatorship."
Wednesday, April 29, 2009
The British mission in Iraq is to draw to a formal close with the end of combat operations that have cost 179 lives.
By Damien McElroy in Basra and Thomas Harding, Defence Correspondent
Troops have been given the order to pull out, six years after the invasion to topple Saddam Hussein and seize his alleged stockpile of weapons of mass destruction.
As Operation Telic, the official code name for the Iraq operation, comes to an official close the British yesterday claimed they had left Basra calmer than at any time since the destruction of Saddam Hussein's regime in 2003.
A memorial service to those killed in Iraq will be held in Basra airbase as command is handed over to the Americans who will secure southern Iraq for their own proposed withdrawal next year.
When the bugler sounds the retreat at the service it will herald the end of a bloody and controversial campaign.
After some of the hardest urban fighting since the Second World War the British say they have left behind a city that can finally look forward to a prosperous future if civil war can be avoided.
A senior military officer said the British Army had fulfilled its mission to depose the Baath party and introduce democracy.
"There is no doubt in my mind that we are leaving Iraq a vastly better place than it was under Saddam," he said.
"We removed a brutal dictator, Iraq is now a democracy. The Iraqi people are generally grateful for what has happened."
However British Forces have been widely criticised, even by American commanders and Nouri al-Maliki, Iraq's prime minister, for failing to stop the Mahdi Army, the radical Shia militia from taking over the city.
Morale plummeted between 2004 and 2008 as British positions, particularly in Basra Palace – were besieged by mortar and rocket fire, mostly supplied by Iran.
Major James Faux, a company commander in 5 Rifles, said: "There's been a lot of blood and sacrifice in Iraq and while I can't speak for those left behind I believe we've done a good job and am satisfied they believed they were doing their best."
In the past year a measure of normality has returned to Basra – markets have reopened and basic services restored – as violence fell to a tenth of levels at the peak.
Much of the credit for the city's change of fortune lies in Mr Maliki's decision to retake the city through Operation Charge of the Knights in March last year.
Baghdad ordered the campaign without consulting British commanders and Mr Maliki later acknowledged it was a humiliating snub.
But a senior British official said Charge of the Knights marked a turning point in the campaign. "It was what we got done in the aftermath that made the difference," said the official.
Over the coming months the remaining 3,700 servicemen will withdraw from the country that at the height of the operation saw 46,000 British troops involved in the 2003 invasion.
The end of the operation comes at a time when the MoD announced yesterday that a further 700 troops will deploy to Afghanistan over the summer to provide extra security for the presidential elections.
Despite the reduction of the force from Iraq the military will still be operating far above its "planning assumptions" with 9,000 troops in Afghanistan putting strain on the overstretched forces.
But it is hoped that the withdrawal will give the Army in particular the opportunity to recuperate after six long years of constant fighting that has seen soldiers quit in droves fed up with constant operations.
British forces handed over military command in Basra to the US Army at the end of March and will complete the withdrawal of combat troops by July 31, leaving behind 400 service personnel mainly involved in training the Iraq navy.
As the UK mission in Iraq draws to a close, one couple has more reason than most to reflect fondly on their time in Basra.
Bombardier James Day, 24, and his wife Natalie, 22, met and fell in love in unusual circumstances while serving with the Royal Artillery in 2003.
Mrs Day was badly injured when she fell out of the Land Rover James was driving and while she lay on the ground, he proclaimed his love for her.
She broke her back and suffered temporary paralysis, but made a full recovery. The couple married and now have two little girls.
Bombardier Day, from Manchester, explained what happened that fateful day.
"Before the actual accident we were in Basra Palace having a little row, a little lovers' tiff so to speak. She wanted to go to the cookhouse and I wanted to go for a pizza. So we argued that much about it but never had either anyway.
"Then I said to her, jokingly, I'm going to hit every bump on the way back, roll you out of the Land Rover and break your back. And lo and behold I did."
Mrs Day flew out of the back of the Land Rover as it hit a particularly deep pothole.
She said: "He got on his knees and I was like "I'm going to die, it's the end." And he said "don't be daft, don't die, I love you, I love you, don't leave me."
He added: "After that the locals started to gather around and cause a bit of trouble, I took her helmet off and they realised she was a woman, and they instantly stopped. It was quite a strange experience to see them stop attacking us and start helping us."
The couple married in 2006 at Mansergh Barracks in Germany, where they were serving.
Mrs Day, who is originally from Thornaby in Teesside, says she is relieved her husband is one of the first men home from the latest tour of duty in Basra.
"I'm totally glad we're out of there. But it's where we first met, isn't it, so it's something special to me."
By Gavin Hewitt
BBC News, Basra
At the Basra airbase, soldiers from the Queen's Royal Hussars take a hammer to the sleeve of a barrel of a Challenger tank.
It is the sound of winding down, of an army withdrawing. Within a short time British combat operations in Iraq will be over.
There is now an urgency to departure. The soldiers have the scent of homecoming, of the tarmac embrace, of the end to aching separations after several tours of duty.
The ordinary soldier rarely frets over legacy but the commanders do. There is an edginess to briefings. A sensitivity, as if the top brass is unsure of how their time will be judged.
Colonel Richard Stanford, the British officer who advised the head of the Iraqi forces, quoted an American general: "It is not about how it started, it is all about how it ends".
There is hope in Basra. The 14th Iraqi army is proving effective and competent.
But there is another legacy that is being debated - what the Iraqi invasion and operation has done to Britain.
It is a question about reputation, about Britain's standing in the world.
Sir Jeremy Greenstock was the diplomat who eloquently made the case for war. This is now his verdict.
"It wasn't legitimate in the eyes of most of the punters out there at the beginning," he told me, "and the effects of the operation through the invasion were not high enough to earn respect. So we carry some of that unpopularity."
Lord Ashdown, a marine turned politician, had also supported the invasion.
He says that "the war and the failure to construct peace afterwards, which was grievous and didn't have to happen, that's done us damage overall".
Both men say that in the eyes of the world Britain is linked to the Americans.
"We will forever be associated with the Americans," said Sir Jeremy.
British military commanders are fiercely proud but defensive too. There are stories of unbelievable courage.
They also know, however, there are those in the Washington corridors who say Britain allowed the militias to effectively take over Basra and that the city was only freed by the Iraqi army.
They say British forces were overstretched and under-resourced and there was not the political will to support them in the fight against the militias.
"I've had senior military officers say to me that the Army is broken as a result of Iraq and Afghanistan", said Lord Ashdown.
Others believe that the legacy of Iraq has weakened Britain's will to use force globally without a clear mandate.
"I don't think we'll ever do that again," said Sir Jeremy, "without a clear UN resolution… and a much wider partnership."
Still some of these initial supporters of the war argue that it is too early for a final judgement. History shields its hand.
But even among those who backed the invasion there is a feeling that six years of combat has left Britain a little chastened, less certain of standing shoulder to shoulder with the United States in the conflicts of the future.
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The remaining 3,700 or so UK servicemen and women stationed in the southern province of Basra are preparing to pull out after six years.
British forces handed over military command in Basra to the US Army at the end of March and will complete the withdrawal of combat troops by July 31, leaving only about 400 UK personnel in Iraq.
Troops from 15 Squadron RAF Regiment said they were proud of the rapport they have built up with local Iraqi Marsh Arabs on their regular patrols around the main coalition base next to Basra International Airport.
Squadron Leader Chris Berryman, officer commanding 15 Squadron, said: "These days it's less about deterrent, and more about interacting with local people."
Resident Naseem Ashur said: "I want them to stay. The British are better than the Iraqis. The British forces brought the sand to help us build this land five years ago."
"The Iraqi government didn't do any projects for us to reduce the problems of our people. The British forces did all those projects."
Football and tomfoolery: British troops lark about with Iraqi children during their final Basra patrols - Daily Mail
British troops in Iraq are carrying out some of their final patrols before ending combat operations and returning home after more than six years in the country.
As the remaining 3,700 or so UK servicemen and women stationed in the southern province of Basra prepare to pull out, they are reflecting on what they have achieved in Iraq.
The men of 15 Squadron RAF Regiment are proud of the rapport they have built up with local Iraqis on their regular patrols around the main coalition base next to Basra International Airport.
They are tasked with protecting the security of the airfield so RAF planes can safely take off and land into Basra.
Troops from 15 Squadron went out on patrol yesterday in the swampy area north of the base populated by marsh Arabs who are generally farmers and fishermen.
Having stopped their Bulldog armoured vehicles in the tiny village of Al Houta, they played football with an excited gaggle of local children.
Several of the youngsters ran rings around the British servicemen, who pointed out they were heavily weighed down with their body armour, guns and radios.
The troops then stopped at the local sheikh's house to share tea and listen to his concerns - although they pointed out that the Americans would soon be in a better position to help him.
Squadron Leader Chris Berryman, officer commanding 15 Squadron, said: 'These days it's less about deterrent, and more about interacting with local people.'
Senior Aircraftsman Chris Dunn, 20, from Maidstone, Kent, went straight from training on to his first operational tour in Iraq.
He said: 'This is about finding out how they are, and also if possible finding out if there are any insurgents in the area or anything like that.'
Letting some of the local children look down the sights of his rifle, he added: 'They're pretty friendly.
'You do get a lot of touching, but I think it's more out of curiosity than anything.'
SAC Dunn is now looking forward to being deployed to Afghanistan in December next year.
Al Houta resident Naseem Ashur was grim about the prospects for people in his village.
He said: 'Life is difficult. There are no jobs at all, there are not many fish.'
But he lit up when asked how he felt about the imminent withdrawal of UK troops.
'I want them to stay. The British are better than the Iraqis,' he said.
'The British forces brought the sand to help us build this land five years ago.
'The Iraqi government didn't do any projects for us to reduce the problems of our people. The British forces did all those projects.'
The patrol then went on to the village of Al Khora, where the RAF Regiment funded the building of a new school in 2005.
The troops were held up on the way back after they spotted streaks of tracer fire in the sky, but it turned out to be from a shooting range on the base.
British forces handed over military command in Basra to the US Army at the end of March and will complete the withdrawal of combat troops by July 31, leaving only about 400 UK personnel in Iraq.
As British troops approach the end of operations in Iraq, Sky's defence correspondent Geoff Meade has been to Basra province to find out what they leave behind.
The Garden of Eden doesn't look much like the land of milk and honey portrayed in the Bible.
The concrete picnic tables that now litter the legendary site look more like a lay-by off some east German autobahn.
But at least Iraqi families can enjoy lunching under the 800-year-old shade of what Muslims revere as the Tree of Adam safe in the knowledge they are unlikely to become sacrifices themselves in a war that finally really seems to be waning.
The border town of al Qurna stands at the junction of the two great rivers Euphrates and Tigris.
Hence the belief that it was once the playground of Adam and Eve.
But being just nine miles from the Iranian frontier has cursed the place to be not only the frontline of the bloody Iran-Iraq war, but a main route of smuggling for the Tehran-sponsored uprising that followed the defeat of Saddam in the 2003 US-led invasion.
Today, though, a minor miracle seems to have been wrought.
Soldiers saunter through busy streets passing the time of day with shopkeepers selling everything from air conditioning to wedding gowns.
It's a getting-to-know-you patrol from the local troops who now police these streets alongside the Americans who are taking over mentoring them from UK forces.
BRITISH troops play football with thrilled Iraqi youngsters — on final patrols as they prepare to quit the country.
The men of 15 Squadron RAF Regiment also let kids look down the sights of rifles, while one girl tried on a helmet.
Later they had tea with the local sheikh in the tiny village of Al Houta.
The Squadron is proud of its rapport with locals.
Senior Aircraftsman Chris Dunn, 20, said: “They’re very friendly.”
The last Brit combat troops will withdraw in July, leaving just 400 personnel in Iraq.
Michelle Lennon has seen her husband embark on two tours of Iraq.
In 2003, when Warrant Officer 2 Sean Lennon was first posted to Basra, coalition action in Iraq had only recently ended and unrest in the city was rife.
By the time of his second tour in November 2008 as a member of 5th Battalion The Rifles, a reduced UK troop presence was based on the outskirts of the city and responsibility for security handed to Iraqis.
"In 2003, we didn't know what to expect," Mrs Lennon said.
"Now you tend to take it more in your stride because it's become the norm for troops to be sent away to Afghanistan or Iraq."
The couple, from Colchester, Essex, who have two daughters, have also found it easier to keep in touch.
In 2003, her husband was in recognisance and two weeks could go by before Mrs Lennon, 32, heard from him.
"He is now able to telephone most evenings if he wants to and we send e-mails almost every day," she said.
"This time it's been harder for the children because they understand what's going on. They realise he is going away for six months at a time," she added.
And living with safety concerns?
"I'm one of these people who will not worry until something happens," Mrs Lennon said.
"If I did, I would think about it constantly. Some people I know do that and it plays on their mind constantly and gets them down."
"We got many good things after the British Army came to the city such as feeling freedom in many ways," she said.
But Ms Salam says there are differing opinions among residents on the impact of the British presence.
Some people have "good things" to say as it has led to financial opportunities which have helped them to realise their "dreams".
But she added that others "will say bad things because in their view the British represent the sadness and stealing" of Iraq and "thousands of people can't find a job".
According to Ms Salam, 32, personal safety is still a concern for women despite statistics showing security has improved dramatically in the past year.
"Before 2003 I was able to go outside my house whenever I wanted... but now, I never go anywhere alone."
Another Basra resident, teacher Um Mahmood, 58, sees things differently.
"Women are now able to go out until late without fearing for their lives," she said.
"They are able to work in various sectors such as education and healthcare and they are doing so in increasingly large numbers."
But Ms Mahmood says British efforts to bring the situation in Basra under control was "neither very positive nor was it negative".
She said the situation improved after responsibility for security was taken on by UK-trained Iraqi forces in late 2007, which also coincided with a ceasefire between Shia militias.
"Prior to 2003, life was very difficult even for families with multiple sources of income. Salaries are very good now and anyone with appropriate qualifications is able to work," she added.
"When the British came to Basra I was apprehensive because they were foreigners imposing their authority in our country.
"In the future, they are going to be remembered positively because, essentially, they weren't bad people and were relatively helpful."
Interview with Ms Mahmood conducted by BBCArabic.com
Corporal Thomas Walker, of D-Company, 5th Battalion The Rifles 5 Rifles, was among the first British soldiers into Basra in 2003.
In August 2006, during his second tour, close friend Corporal Matt Cornish was killed in a mortar attack on the UK base at Basra Palace.
On his third tour of Iraq, he says the changes in six years were evident.
Cpl Walker, 25, from Falmouth, Cornwall, said in the opening weeks of the campaign, he was living out of armoured vehicles.
"We had to live on rations for two months straight. It was very emotional. Back then there was no air conditioning. The kit was nowhere as good as it is now."
The Ministry of Defence handed over control of the Basra Palace base to the Iraqis in August 2007.
Speaking from the Contingency Operating Base at Basra airfield, Cpl Walker said the city was now a "completely different place".
He added: "I'm not going to say it's 100% safe, because nowhere really is.
"It's getting there. It's getting to be a half-decent country to live in, I can imagine in 10 or 20 years' time, people coming here on holiday."
Lt Col Mike Smith, 41, is the commander of the Army's Joint Helicopter Force in Basra.
He returned to the city in mid-March, after previously having briefly been there in 2008 and spending four months on a tour in 2004.
He describes the situation in 2004 as "stark".
"That time was one of the lowest ebbs in the campaign. You had the perception that people were surviving and getting by with very little.
"Now Basra is becoming secure and prosperous and it feels like a different country. The optimism is tangible.
"We fly around at a low level and we can see that people are really living now. From the air we can see electricity pylons, with the wires connected, and people have their lights on.
"More people are out fishing and farming. The crew in our helicopters, who man the guns and keep a lookout, spend a lot of their time waving back at the locals.
"It's a completely different situation to the one in 2004 and to see it having come out the other side is fantastic.
"The Iraqis are in control and leading the operations now, and there's a private satisfaction that we've done the job that we were asked to do."
Tuesday, April 28, 2009
By Caroline Wyatt
Defence correspondent, BBC News
As the British mission in Iraq moves towards a close, one soldier recalls the day his unit was forced to fix bayonets and engage in close-quarter combat with insurgents.
"Basically, it was short, sharp and furious. Al Amara was the place to be if you were an infantry soldier."
So says Sgt Brian Wood, of A Company, 1st Battalion the Princess of Wales' Royal Regiment, remembering the battle that won him the Military Cross.
It was the first time since the Falklands War that British soldiers had to fixed bayonets before going into combat, in what became known as the "Battle of Danny Boy," named after the vehicle check-point nearby, some 15 miles south of the city of Al Amara.
Today, Sgt Wood is at a rather different vehicle check-point near the gates of the main Basra military camp, helping train the American contractors who will take it over.
The peaceful scene on this sunny spring day could not be more different from the images in his mind of his tour of duty in 2004 on Operation Telic 4.
Back then, he says: "We were constantly under attack. If mortars weren't coming into our base, then we were dragged out into the city to help other units under fire."
Every detail of 14 May 2004 is still etched on his mind.
"We were conducting a vehicle check point, but we were told to mount up sharpish.
"We heard that there'd been an incident with the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, and someone had been hit by a grenade and another had been shot in the arm. Our role was to extract them."
But on the way there in their armoured Warrior vehicles, his unit was ambushed by insurgents from the Jaish al-Mahdi or Mahdi Army - supporters of the cleric Moqtada al-Sadr - from three positions.
Then came the order to dismount and fix bayonets onto their SA80 rifles, not something Sgt Wood, then a lance corporal, had ever expected to hear in his lifetime.
"The adrenalin going through my body was like nothing I'd ever felt before. I just led my boys in and hoped for the best.
"We've got a lot of firepower with the Warrior, so I'd never dreamt we would be told to dismount and engage in close-quarter battles.
"It hadn't happened since the Falklands War and fighting in the trench with the enemy down at your feet was an experience I'll never forget."
They had to charge across open ground and in the trenches they fought for five hours in one of the most intense battles since the Falklands.
As Sgt Wood and his men fought against a well-armed adversary, he expected at any minute to hear the cry "Man down!" He still does not know how they managed to emerge without serious casualties that day.
What happened in the aftermath of the battle is currently the subject of dispute in the High Court in London.
Lawyers for six Iraqis say some British troops might have used interrogation techniques on Iraqi detainees that breached human rights laws.
They are asking the court to order an independent public inquiry into the Iraqis' allegations that British soldiers might have killed some captives held after the Battle of Danny Boy, amid claims they were tortured, murdered and their bodies mutilated.
They are claims the Ministry of Defence vehemently rejects.
The Defence Secretary John Hutton is opposing the application for judicial review, while MoD lawyers say that the 20 who died were undoubtedly killed during the fighting.
They also argue that an independent and effective investigation has already been held by the Royal Military Police, showing that the bodies were taken back to camp so the insurgent ring-leaders - believed to be responsible for earlier attacks on British forces - could be identified.
The MoD says that just nine Iraqis were detained at Camp Abu Naji and that all left the British base alive.
The application is being heard by Lord Justice Scott Baker, Mr Justice Silber and Mr Justice Sweeney and is expected to last 15 days.
The rest of Operation Telic 4 continued to be challenging in the extreme. British forces came under attack in Al Amara more than 300 times in three months.
Sgt Wood himself was lucky to survive when his vehicle was hit by an IED, an improvised explosive device.
"The thing I remember is the blast. It just sucked all your breath away," he says.
"And the fire. The smoke was just unbelievable - it was full of toxic black smoke and there was no noise from the vehicle, nothing.
"The gunner, Pte Samuels, was shouting, 'The boss is dead!' I looked and the boss [platoon commander] was lying at the bottom of the vehicle.
"We had two injured and I was injured myself with blast to my face. The boys in the back had pierced an artery in the leg and one had shrapnel to his nose, which was dangling down," he says.
"I had to patch them up and then give first aid to the platoon commander. The diesel tank in the back had split, so we were up to our shins in diesel, and there was a fire in the left hand side.
"I put the fire out with the fire extinguisher, but totally forgot that you were supposed to use it and get out of the vehicle - so it took all our oxygen away.
"But it did put the fire out," and he smiles sheepishly. "I must have done something right, because we were still alive."
Al Amara was also where L/Cpl Johnson Beharry won his Victoria Cross for driving his comrades out of trouble under fire - twice. Sgt Wood's men, in turn, rescued him when he was hit again.
"Warriors have a lot of protection, but there's no protection when it's coming through the driver's hatch and blowing up next to your face," the sergeant says.
"He had a round through the helmet and next was IED'd in an ambush, and his driving got us out. Then Beharry got an RPG to the face and when we went in to pull him out of the Warrior we didn't recognise him."
It was the last time Sgt Wood saw L/Cpl Beharry before they met again at Buckingham Palace to receive their medals almost a year later.
Now Sgt Wood cannot wait to be re-united with his family.
"Sometimes the dark days do come to the front of your mind, and you do think about the people that you engaged," he says, "But that's the job that you're trained to do.
"And the real heroes are our families, who worry about us back at home. I'm so lucky to have an amazing wife and son, and the desire to go home and be with them now is overwhelming."
2009 After six years, British troops are approaching the end of their operations in Iraq.
From a distance, the forward operating base is all but invisible amid the marshland around Basra; a few crumbled mud-brick buildings rise above the reeds and sandy ground.
As you approach, you can just make out some camouflage netting, and a small camp-fire outside surrounded by sandbags, where a group of soldiers sit eating straight from their ration packs.
Life here is basic in the extreme for the 30 or so men and one female medic here. The lavatory is a bucket in a crumbling outbuilding, with a plastic bag for every visit, with the laconic instruction from one soldier to "burn after use" on a fire away from the camp.
This is one of the last forward operating bases, named Forward Operating Base Oxford, presumably for its proximity to the river, though nobody can remember why it was first code-named Oxford.
The men of A Company, 5 Rifles, are preparing to go out onto the waterways in small boats for the second patrol of the day through the surrounding villages.
They are gathering intelligence to prevent rocket attacks on the main coalition military base, and prevent any remaining insurgents using the cover of the marshes as a launching ground for such attacks.
Today, the only others using the waterways are local fishermen in long shallow fishing boats, dragging out their nets, and water buffalo ambling through the muddy waters.
The fishermen take little notice of our small boat as it lands upstream at the village of Qarat Hariya, where more than 20 children run out to greet the patrol. They clamour for the boiled sweets they know are kept in the soldiers' ration packs, and fight over the sweets as they are handed out by a military translator from Kuwait, who chats to them in Arabic.
This time last year, the main British base was rocketed almost 30 times one month. Now, it is far quieter, though one civilian was killed by an attack in March on the main base.
"Some of them know the British are leaving, and some don't and a lot of them aren't really fussed," he says.
"Some may be sad that we're leaving, and they know Americans will do things slightly differently, so that may take some getting used to."
One villager comes forward to say he would like British forces to remain in the area.
The satellite dishes on the small houses and a newly-paved road suggest some improvements to living standards over the past few years, though the villagers are far from prosperous.
This is a part of Iraq that has long suffered neglect, near to the marshes that were drained under Saddam Hussein, forcing many of the Marsh Arabs into poverty in the city of Basra and the surrounding provinces.
The poor Shia of the region were seen as his enemies, but here not all were happy to see foreign soldiers on their soil after his regime was toppled.
One older man spots the British platoon and comes forward to put in a voluble complaint via the translator.
Cpt King promises to see what he can do about compensation, as another village elder comes to complain about a wall damaged by a helicopter flare.
The children challenge the British soldiers to an impromptu volleyball match - a scene unthinkable even a year or so ago, when militias controlled much of Basra and the surrounding areas.
For much of the previous six years, being friendly to coalition forces could be lethal.
Maj James Faux, of 5 Rifles, says it all feels very different now. He remembers the bitter fighting in Al Amara, on a previous tour in 2004 with the Light Infantry, when his forces came under constant attack - often from young men not much older than the boys playing here today.
"It's a good feeling, walking around here now. I do think we have achieved something," he says.
'Optimism' for future
When the patrol gets back to the forward operating base, many of the soldiers drenched in mud, the men jump into the river to get clean.
Most have their own private opinions on the way the war was conducted, though often ones they would rather not share in public.
So in their final days in Basra, do they feel it was worth it? Rifleman Richard Herrington has mixed feelings.
"Sometimes not, obviously, but sometimes we have made a difference and it's good that we've stayed here," he says, as he washes out a muddy boot filled with dank water.
"If we'd have left sooner, it would have been a bad situation, but at least we've stayed and done something."
L/Cpl Russell Potter says he is optimistic about Iraq's future now, and that this has been a much more relaxed tour of duty for all of them than their last.
"What stands out most for me is being at the main camp in Basra, the COB (contingency operating base) on the last tour, and coming under constant rocket attack," he adds.
"This time on the base we were able to eat in peace, and not keep diving under the tables when the sirens went off."
As dusk falls and darkness envelops the camp, lit only by two small fires to heat the ration packs, all you can hear are the guttural sounds of the bull-frogs in the reeds, and some quiet banter from the soldiers over what they'll do when they finally get back home. "Have a beer" is the general consensus.
For the British army, Iraq has proved a long test of strength and endurance, sometimes stretching both to the limit.
But as British military operations draw to a close, there is a sense of quiet satisfaction for many of the soldiers here that since they arrived in November, not a single shot has been fired in anger, and the area they have patrolled is at last more peaceful than it has been for several years.
From TOM NEWTON DUNN
In Basra, Iraq
BRITISH forces have been praised for their outstanding success in bringing peace to Basra — as they prepare to leave it for good.
The Sun watched yesterday as Our Boys played table football with Iraqi teenagers on the site of one of their most bitter battles. They were at a market where the hated Jameat police station stood. British troops surrounded it in September 2005 when cops — infiltrated by militia — kidnapped two SAS troopers.
One soldier emerged ablaze from his Warrior armoured vehicle after it was pelted with petrol bombs. Amazingly, he survived.
The troops finally seized the station on Christmas Day 2006 — freeing 178 prisoners. Many had been tortured by the fanatics. Royal Engineers later blew the two-storey building to pieces.
Sergeant Majors Jules King and Doug Farthing won the footie 5-1 yesterday. WO2 King, 37 — finishing his third tour in Iraq — said: “We’ve won back the support of the locals again. It makes all the sacrifice and hard work worthwhile.”
Meanwhile, a joint British-Iraqi army foot patrol was met with waves and smiles. Kids rushed up to show their English homework. Our Boys have ditched hard helmets and some no longer wear body armour.
The 4,000 remaining troops of 20 Armoured Brigade, have not fired a shot in anger since arriving in November. Bases have been rocketed just three times, compared to 20 a day in 2007. The turnaround came after a four-day battle by Brits and Iraqis to drive out militias in March last year.
American Lt Col “AJ” Johnson has taken charge of mentoring Iraqi troops as Our Boys prepare to leave in a few weeks. He said: “The British public should be proud.”
Sunday, April 26, 2009
AWARD-WINNING ITV ANCHORMAN
In these tough economic times it's easy to forget that sometime early this summer the flag will come down on Britain's involvement in the most controversial war since Vietnam. Six years after our troops crossed into Iraq from Kuwait to help topple Saddam Hussein, they'll be packing up and coming home.
So how will history judge a war that so divided this country? A job well done? Or as a badly-planned, reckless and ill-advised military adventure that cost far too much money and far too many lives.
Strangely, it will probably be remembered as both.
Whether you were for the war or against it, what is not in doubt is the courage, commitment and heroism of the tens of thousands of British Servicemen and women who have served their country in the past six years.
Theirs is not to question why, theirs is but to do or die. And they did it, and 179 of them paid the ultimate price.
They went into battle in Iraq WITHOUT all the equipment they would have liked and WITHOUT the full unequivocal support of the British public But they fought WITH the utmost bravery, often in the most desperate of circumstances.
And it was a war that became unnecessarily difficult, dangerous and deadly. That was because the politicians and the officials responsible for the post-war planning got it so badly wrong.
The fighting in the real war was largely over in a matter of weeks.
British troops had taken Basra while American forces had rolled into Bagdhad and ordinary Iraqis seemed pretty happy as the giant statue of Saddam came crashing down.
I remember moving into Basra with the Royal Marines at dawn one April morning and all the people on the streets seemed delighted to be rid of a murderous dictator.
But then everything changed. The invading armies turned, in the eyes of Iraqis, from liberators into occupiers. And that was to have the most disastrous consequences.
Disbanding the Iraqi army was, perhaps, the worst mistake. It meant that tens of thousands of disillusioned, unpaid, trained fighters melted away into the villages, towns and cities with their weapons and became ready and willing recruits for the militias taking up arms against British soldiers.
It was a nasty, messy insurgency, the Brits couldn't win it and casualties rose month by month. It took a massive assault by Iraqi troops to finally bring it to an end.
But as British troops prepare to leave has it all been worth it? There is a democratic government in Iraq and the violence has diminished, although the dreadful suicide bombings in the last few days indicate just how fragile things are.
And the real test will come once most of the coalition troops have gone. Will they leave behind a functioning society, or will their departure trigger a bout of bloodletting and civil war that tears Iraq apart? Only then will we really know whether it was worth it.
During his time in the troubled country, the 23-year-old has helped protect the Allied forces' operations base at Basra, and assist Iraq Security Forces in the city.Attacks on the base have dropped from 28 per month a year ago to just five in the past eight months, resulting in UK involvement being scaled down - and Martin being cleared to return home to his pregnant wife Louise. But not all British soldiers are so fortunate.
Martin experienced the human cost of the invasion firsthand, when his close friend, Corporal Matt Cornish, was killed during his second tour.Cpl Cornish, 29, was killed in 2006 during a sustained mortar attack on the base in Basra City.
Martin said: "He was in the leading vehicle, I was in the vehicle behind. I thought he was going to make it, but when we got the nod he did pass away, it was hard. You have to just carry on."The hardest thing I ever did was coffin bearer when we loaded him on to the aircraft. It was the hardest thing watching the lads break down."
Friday, April 24, 2009
But this is war-ravaged Basra in Iraq, which until last year was one of the most violent places on Earth. Where a bloody insurgency once raged, shoppers now pack the pavement cafes and busy souks overlooking the River Euphrates.
Speaking over George Michael’s Careless Whisper playing on the restaurant stereo, the executive with Al-Mirbad radio, who earns £540 a month, added: “No one wanted foreign forces to come here — we are a proud people.
“But it was the only way we could get rid of Saddam Hussein. We now have democracy and no one can tell the people who will be their leader.”
Seven miles from the river, across a windswept plain of salt flats and oil slicks, is Basra airport, where Britain’s combat troops are packing their kits ready to come home.
RAF padre John Ellis, 45, spends a quiet moment reading the 179 British names engraved on polished brass plaques on a memorial wall.
The squadron leader with 903 Expeditionary Air Wing told me: “Many of us here have friends’ names displayed here.”
Pointing towards polished brass plaques, John said: “I knew him... I knew him... and I knew him. Memories have been made here and people want to keep hold of those memories.”
Nodding towards Basra’s gleaming international airport, revamped with British military know-how, he added: “People want to leave well — and acknowledge things have been achieved.”
British forces rolled into Basra in April 2003, greeted by rapturous cheers from some locals.
This mainly Shiite Muslim city had long been a target for Sunni dictator Saddam’s repression.
In March last year the Iraqi army — backed by British and US forces — launched an operation to smash the militias.
Since then there has been an uneasy calm in Basra, though some parts of Iraq continue to come under attack by insurgents, as yesterday’s suicide bombings show.
But university lecturer Dr Juliana Dawood Jousif, 52, told me that, despite the carnage: “The war was worth it. We would never have got rid of Saddam’s regime otherwise.
“It’s sad these people had to come to Basra and lose their lives for something they aren’t responsible for.”
Youth worker Shatha Ibrahim, 32, helps local school leavers find work training schemes. She said: “If you disagreed with Saddam, you were not safe. His guys would follow you until you were dead. Then, under the militias, women were not leaving our homes much.
“In the street and in the markets they would tell us to wear the veil and not to wear make-up or jeans. Now we have picnics by the river and we can wear whatever we want.”
Today there is a housing boom in this battle-scarred city. One home recently sold for 500,000 dollars (around £340,000).
Women — most in black hijab headscarf and flowing dishdasha robes — were happy to be photographed as they picked up bargain tight blue jeans and lingerie.
But retired archaeologist Bridget Jones, 77, from London, who visited recently, conceded: “It wouldn’t be everyone’s cup of tea.”
Since 2003 UK taxpayers have pumped £740million into reconstruction and development here. Critics say some of the cash poured into the city was frittered away by corruption.
Mother-of-two Dr Jousif continued: “Corruption here is rife and needs to be tackled. What we need in Basra now is big foreign companies to invest in electricity, sewerage and roads.”
Despite sitting on some of the world’s most abundant oil reserves, the city is still impoverished. Unemployment is 30 per cent, the canals are clogged with fetid raw sewage, electricity is in short supply and few have drinkable running water.
Development Secretary Douglas Alexander told The Sun: “There is still work to be done but real improvements are being made to electricity supplies, to water supplies and the sewage system.”
Families who fled Iraq during the bloody turmoil are now coming home.
Barber Mozed Muyad, 38, escaped to Sweden after religious fanatics among the militias began butchering hairdressers. One barber was killed with electric drills because the fanatics believe shaving beards to be un-Islamic.
Mozed has been able to re-start his business, hiring two workers, thanks to a business loan from the coalition’s Provincial Reconstruction Team. The barber, who earns up to £80 a day, revealed: “I had to run because they had killed a barber friend of mine. Now I’ve got more than enough work and want to expand again.”
The Department for International Development has earmarked more than £1.3million for a further 1,200 business start-ups.
The turbaned imam at the sprawling Moosawi Mosque in Basra’s centre hit out at last month’s protests by extremists in Luton who labelled British troops the “butchers of Basra”.
Standing beside the vast domes of the mosque which can hold 11,000 worshippers, Abdul Al Moosawi, 49, said: “We appreciate the sacrifice British troops made in bringing democracy to our country.
“Saddam had a sick mind but the British and Americans changed the regime for good.
“I thank the parents of these soldiers for the sacrifice their children made and ask God to send their souls to paradise.”
The plaques to the fallen at Basra airport will be dismantled and rebuilt among the tranquillity of the National Memorial Arboretum at Alrewas, Staffs.
And their courage will never be forgotten among the smiling families at the funfair in Basra.
Wednesday, April 22, 2009
City troops arriving in Basra in 2003 were generally welcomed to the city by locals with open arms, celebrating the imminent downfall of long-standing oppressive president Saddam Hussein.
In the following years, however, many British lives were lost in fierce fighting in the city, as organised insurgent groups such as the Mehdi Army launched a barrage of attacks.
Patrolling soldiers were at best stoned by locals – and at worst forced to engage in frantic firefights. Most of those who have served on four tours speak of missing fallen friends and colleagues.
But the Charge of the Knights operation in March last year, an Iraqi Army-led military operation aimed at rooting out extremists, was a turning point for the country and local lads are now looking forward to leaving Iraq for the final time.
For Whitleigh man Corporal Steven Stringer, the priority is getting back to his five children at his family home near Paderborn, Germany, where his battalion, 5 Rifles, is based.
The 36-year-old has missed numerous birthdays and other milestones since arriving in Basra for his second tour.
"Spending Christmas and New Year away from my family was tough," Cpl Stringer says from the back of a Warrior on the way to a training exercise. "It's been a long old stretch out here and I'm looking forward to getting back."
Rifleman Karl Bennett, from Ivybridge, will be moving into a new house when he touches down on UK soil again in May.
The 23-year-old, a former pupil of Stowford Primary School and St Boniface's Catholic College, is proud at how things have changed in Iraq since he was last there just over two years ago.
"It's improved amazingly," he says. "Compared to what it was like in 2006 it's come on dramatically.
"Things have moved on and it's only getting better. We've done what we came here to do, but I'm looking forward to getting back to Plymouth."
Rfn Bennett is one of dozens of Plymouth soldiers to have lost friends in the war, but he says he's convinced the most important thing is the welfare of the Iraqi people.
"Obviously there have been deaths and without a doubt that's the worst thing for anyone," he reflects.
"The families I feel for still to this day: but, in general, I think the Iraqi public thinks we've done a good job. It's good to see and it's good to leave with a good, positive attitude."
Serjeant Karl Dobson has seen Operation Telic from start to finish.
The 29-year-old, from Saltash, vividly remembers spending two months living off ration packs in the back of a cramped and unbearably hot Warrior armoured vehicle with seven other soldiers during the 2003 invasion.
"I just remember it all being so fast," he recalls.
"When we got here we were greeted with handshakes and open arms – but then Iraq went through its darker periods. They didn't want us here at all.
"There were a few hairy moments: but coming back here you can see the difference that the British have made with regards to the Government, the police, their army – and what a difference six years makes.
"I can confidently stand here and say the police and their army are 100 per cent better than what it was.
"I believe the British have done a good job and it will be good to know that we've started something and we're going to finish it."
Passionate about his job commanding a Warrior, Sjt Dobson is nonetheless looking forward to returning to Saltash to see his mum, dad and brother.
By the time he leaves at the end of May, he will have spent a total of more than two years in Basra.
"I believe we came here for a reason," he adds. "We've done what we came here to do.
"I've seen it from the start, through the bad times, to the end state and it's time to go. We're going home, and I'm happy knowing that."
Young Rifleman Craig Ruff, 19, from the city centre, says he's enjoyed his first tour to Iraq – but is eager to test his skills in Afghanistan.
"At this point, though, I'm really looking forward to going back and seeing my family and friends," he says.
"You train and you want to do what you train for – it's your job – but obviously it's a great thing that the fighting's coming to an end."
Tomorrow: How the Battalion's soldiers have been working with locals in Iraq to help them rebuild their lives.
Tuesday, April 21, 2009
“The project consists of two stages, and will be finalized within five years,” Dr. Hayder Ali told Aswat al-Iraq news agency.
“It would occupy an area of 158 donums (One Iraqi donum equals 2500 square meters),” he said.
A soldier from Bath says he is looking forward to serving in one of the most inhospitable regimes in the world.
Nineteen-year-old Nicholas Addey is coming to the end of a tour of duty in Basra, where he says his rifle company's stint has been "quiet".
But as he and thousands of British soldiers prepare to lead the drawdown of forces from Iraq, another country is already firmly in the minds and on the lips of men serving in 5th Battalion The Rifles (5 Rifles) - Afghanistan.
Although some of the 600 troops serving with 5 Rifles at Contingency Operating Base (COB) Basra have experienced a total of four tours, in 2003, 2004, 2006 and the present one, for many of the younger troops such as Rifleman Addey, their current deployment is their first.
And perhaps surprisingly, when asked about the future, the men eagerly talk about their hopes, and not fears, of serving in Asia.
The battalion, equipped with the formidable Warrior Armoured Vehicle, has a tour booked in 2011, and although there's no guarantee, the men are fully aware it is more than likely they will be deployed to the war-torn country.
The soldiers are now weeks away from the end of their current stint - with most scheduled to leave early to mid May - after Major General Andy Salmon, head of coalition forces, stood down and handed over military command to the US Army last month.
Maj Gen Salmon's consensus that the British Army is leaving Basra a much safer and optimistic place is shared by the 5 Rifles troops.
Rfn Addey, is out on his first tour, after arriving last December.
Rfn Addey, who will return to the battalion's base in Paderborn in Germany, said: "This has been a quiet first tour. There's been no contact with the enemy."
Rfn Addey, who was recently engaged to Trisha Hazell, 18, said it was the lack of action that has set his mind on fighting in Afghanistan in two years' time.
He said: "I joined because I wanted to fight, I wanted to make people proud, I wanted to be on the front line.
"The training we've done - we've not used it all on this tour. People join the Army for those reasons."
One of 5 Rifles' principle tasks in Basra is to provide protection on the base and assistance to the Iraqi Security Forces in Basra City when required - or as many of them like to dub themselves, they are "the insurance policy".
But they have not been called into the city once on this tour, and indirect fire on the COB is unusual these days - there have been only five attacks in the past eight months, compared to 28 in March 2008.
Monday, April 20, 2009
British Military reconstruction and development teams are building a modern fish market in a small town in Iraq called Al Qurnah, where the staple food is fish. The town is well known for its biblical tourist attraction - a lone dead tree which is supposedly the tree of life from the Garden of Eden.
By Rupert Hamer
A YEAR AGO, WOMEN IN BASRA WERE KILLED JUST FOR WEARING MAKE-UP. AS OUR TROOPS PREPARE TO PULL OUT AT LAST, IT'S A CASE OF..
Sitting on a swing in the cool night air of Basra, 14-year-old Asha reveals the dream she shares with many girls her age around the world... she wants to be a model.
Just 12 months ago it would have been an impossible, even fatal ambition in a city where Muslim militias executed women for daring to wear make-up or jeans.
But as British troops prepare to pull out of Iraq's second city, things are very different.
Asha says: "For a whole year I could not go to school. It was too dangerous. We lived opposite an Iraqi police station and later in the occupation there was shooting there all the time.
"Now I am back at school. It is peaceful. When I leave I want to be a model. It is something I have always wanted. And now maybe I will have a chance." Her mother Noor, 45, who works for a mobile phone company, recalls with a shudder the year of hell when Basra was under militia control before the Iraqi army regained control with the help of Coalition troops.
She says: "They killed one woman for wearing make-up.
Women were being shot just because they wore jeans." Three years ago I walked round Basra Five Mile Market surrounded by heavily-armed British soldiers.
At the time, I asked my interpreter how long I would last there on my own. He looked at me, smiled shyly and replied: "Two minutes." This week, as I step out of an Iraqi army armoured vehicle at the same spot, I experience a bizarre feeling.
Instead of a platoon of British infantrymen, I have just a handful of escorts wearing berets, their rifles slung carelessly at their sides.
And in place of angry young men with eyes full of hatred, photographer Phil Coburn and I are offered endless glasses of heavily-sugared "chi" as we stroll around the market. The stench of open sewers has been replaced by the fragrant smell of spices and cooking.
Phil and I are beckoned into the shop of shoe-seller Abad Ali Sadam, a 31-year-old father of three. "It has been hard," he says, before gesturing to his packed stalls.
"Once, this place was burnt down, destroyed by the fighting. People were fleeing Basra. But now they are back and we are free. I can buy a car, own my own house, walk with my children. Before, this would have been a dream."
Further on in the market, as his 10-year-old daughter Rogna shyly curls herself around his leg, building contractor Mashtak Gabar, 40, says: "Just coming here was impossible. Then the Iraqi army drove away the militiamen and now life is good. My children can go to school again and there is more money. Just being able to come here with my children, being free to walk around as a family is amazing to us." In 2003 British troops were greet- ed with flowers as they ousted Saddam Hussein's hated regime in Iraq's second city.
But as the Coalition's "peace" plan faltered, flowers Team... gave way to bricks, then bullets, and finally by the roadside bombs that killed so many of our 179 fallen troops. By late 2007 Basra was in the grip of Muslim hardliners led by the Shia firebrand Muqtadr Al Sadr. With mounting casualties, our city bases surrounded and too few troops to retake the city, the
British Army retreated. Many lost faith in the our troops because we left them at the mercy of the militias.
Iraqis were plunged into & Brit what the present British Consul General in Basra Nigel Haywood admits was a "nightmarish" existence. As well as the women murdered for breaking hardline dress codes, barbers were executed just for cutting men's beards. But that all ended a year ago when, on the orders of US commanders, a division of newly-trained Iraqi troops retook Basra.
And now the city can breathe again. Businesses driven away by violence are beginning to return. There are even six off-licences - just a year ago selling alcohol could lead to execution by the miltias.
Today, as we visit the city's picturesque Lebanon's Play Park, the sight of women laughing and joking with their husbands and children is the lasting legacy.
For 4,000 British troops, the change is welcome. When British combat operations officially end here in a few weeks, they can go home.
Major Mark Marshall, 35, who was in Basra in 2004, during some of the fiercest fighting, says: "Then we were getting 100 attacks a day Now we are down to virtually none." Trooper Danny Perrott of the Queen's Royal Hussars, who first came here three years ago, said: "It was incredibly tense in 2006.
Everyone seemed more hostile. But this tour is different. The locals are far calmer, more friendly.
"They wave and give us the thumbs up. Roads are being built and gradually the city is being redeveloped. In 10 years I think Basra will be like Kuwait City. We've done our job. Now it's time to go home."
Iraq will commence drilling for oil at a field shared with Kuwait although the lack of an agreement outlining investment in equally owned fields, according to sources. In the weeks before the 1990 Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, Baghdad blamed the nation of stealing billions of dollars worth of oil from its fields through horizontal drilling. Kuwait denied the charge.
"The oil minister visited Safwan oilfield and inaugurated the installment of many rigs, which are due to start drilling in a few days," oil ministry spokesman Asim Jihad said.
Several fields overlap the border, including the Rumaila South field and also the Safwan and Zubair fields.
During a visit to the joint border fields, Oil Minister Hussain Shahristani said that until an agreement is entered with Kuwait, Iraq will drill additional wells in the region, his spokesman said.
"We will start drilling more wells in the border field of Safwan to make the most of crude available to raise production and export rates," Jihad quoted Shahristani as saying.
Iraq has not signed any agreement setting out the technical and legal mechanisms to spend in oilfields shared by the two nations.
Members of Iraq's parliament have elected a new speaker, ending months of dispute about who should fill the post.
Ayad al-Samarai, who is from the main Sunni Arab alliance, won 153 of 232 votes cast, and promised to work for national unity.
Politicians had agreed to reserve the position of speaker for a Sunni Arab, but Mr Samarai had failed to win a big enough majority in a previous vote.
Parliament has been without a speaker since last December.
The previous holder of the post, Mahmoud al-Mashhadani, stepped down following criticism of his abrasive style.
After the vote that approved him as the new speaker, Mr Samarai said Iraq's parliament needed a "process of reform" that would allow competing parliamentary blocs to work together more productively.
"The process of [parliamentary] oversight is not a means of weakening the executive authority but of strengthening it," the AFP news agency reported him as saying.
Correspondents say his selection opens the way for parliament to deal with crucial reforms that have been on hold since Mr Mashhadani stepped down.
"Today we finished a complicated problem which has lasted for months and thank God has been settled in this democratic manner," the acting speaker, Khalid al-Attiya, told Reuters news agency.
"And we hope that the new era for the elected president [of parliament] will be full of achievements in order to allow parliament to rise to its responsibilities," he said.
The decision validates recent suggestions from the General Company of Iraq Ports that it would be working on expanding cargo capacity at the country's facilities, and comes as interest in Iraq's import and export potential continues to grow.
A ministry release indicated that the project would represent a landmark that would change the course of the Iraqi economy. The US$5.4 billion Al Faw Big Port is being designed by an Italian company, which will work in conjunction with the Iraqi ministry of transport.
“This port is a strategic project that will bring about this change,” said the release, according to the Aswat al-Iraq news agency.
“The strategic position of Iraq will make it the short-cut route to transport goods between the northern and southern parts of the world,” it added.
Sunday, April 19, 2009
Lt Col Chamberlain and 650 of his 1,000 troops currently based at the Contingency Operating Base (COB) Basra are now weeks away from leaving after Major General Andy Salmon stood down and handed over military command to the US Army last month.
And looking back, Lt Col Chamberlain, originally from Devizes but now based at 5 Rifles' base in Germany, is without doubt the British Army has left a significantly positive mark on Basra City and the surrounding province.
Standing in the COB next to one of the Warrior Armoured Fighting Vehicles he first entered Basra in as a company commander and Major in 2003, he said: "The Basra we entered was a depressed, Middle Eastern city. It was old, it was crumbling, it was dirty. The cars were old, there were no modern vehicles on the road, there weren't any satellite TV dishes. The electricity wasn't functioning, it was a very run down place. The population was very frightened, very subdued and not hugely happy.
"But now it's changed significantly. It's completely different. It's a vibrant place, the population is happy, the middle class has come back, so things are functioning in a way they weren't in 2003.
"It's changed immeasurably, electricity is on, cars are modern, there are satellite dishes on every building, some people have air conditioning, people don't rely on generators in the back yard, it's a proper, viable, functioning Middle Eastern city.
"Yes, there is still a need for new hospitals, there are still more schools required, there is still infrastructure needed. But that work is now happening, and that's the big difference; it wasn't happening in 2003.
"People were not getting what they needed, the middle class were leaving where they could. Now they're here. They're investing in their future," he said. "We have had two elections here, we've got democracy here, people have their say. Children are going to school on proper terms, in a proper education system."
British combat operations in Iraq will end on May 31 and nearly all of the UK's remaining 4,100 troops in the country will be withdrawn by July 31.
Saturday, April 18, 2009
Senior officer highlights army’s positive impact on southern Iraq.
By Jamie Grierson
A senior commanding officer has paid tribute to the sacrifices made by soldiers serving in southern Iraq as UK forces prepare to end combat operations in the Middle Eastern country.
With three tours of Iraq to his name, Lieutenant-Colonel Edward Chamberlain, Commanding Officer 5th Battalion, The Rifles (5 Rifles), was there at the beginning of the invasion in 2003 and will witness the campaign come to an end.
Lt Col Chamberlain and 650 of his 1,000 troops based at the Contingency Operating Base (COB) Basra, are now weeks away from leaving after military command was handed to the US Army last month.
Lt Col Chamberlain has no doubt the British Army has left a significantly positive mark on Basra and the surrounding province.
Standing in the COB next to one of the Warrior armoured fighting vehicles he first entered Basra in as a major in 2003, he said: “The Basra we entered was a depressed, Middle Eastern city. It was old, it was crumbling, it was dirty. It was a very rundown place. The population was very frightened, very subdued and not hugely happy.
“But now it’s changed significantly. It’s a vibrant place, the population is happy, the middle class has come back, so things are functioning in a way they weren’t in 2003.”
British combat operations will end on May 31 and nearly all of the UK’s remaining 4,100 troops will be withdrawn by July 31.
Since 2003, 179 British personnel have lost their lives.
Lt Col Chamberlain paid tribute to them, and added that improvements in the country were down to their sacrifices.
He said: “The individual, personal tragedies, for people who have been killed and their families, and those who have been injured and their families, while desperately sad, the overall effect is positive.
“This country is better now than it was in 2003. I think we should be proud of the sacrifices they’ve made for this nation.”