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Old 03-08-2009, 06:45 AM
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Default British commander in Iraq declares 'mission accomplished'

By Sean Rayment, Defence Correspondent in Basra
Last Updated: 8:48AM GMT 08 Mar 2009

The commander of British forces in Iraq has said that all 179 UK troops killed fighting in the war sacrificed their lives for a good cause.

Despite the controversy surrounding the conflict, Major General Andy Salmon said that the servicemen and women who had been killed in Iraq since 2003 did not die in vain.
Gen Salmon declared "mission accomplished" for British forces, adding that now was the right time to return to the UK.
Gen Salmon, a Royal Marine Commando, who first served in Iraq 18 years ago, also said he believed that the insurgency had been defeated.
He added that the Iraqi Army now held the "monopoly of violence" and the power vacuum, which had been exploited by the militias, had now disappeared.
The general, who commands the coalition's multinational division south east, also predicted a bright future for Basra and said that with hard work and the right investment there was "no reason" why Basra could not become as successful as Dubai.
The general, who will be Britain's last commander of British troops in southern Iraq, said he was proud of what has been achieved but added that there were important "lessons to be learnt" from the six year operation.
He said that Britain played a significant part in bringing a nation out of the "darkness" of a totalitarian dictatorship.
In an interview with The Sunday Telegraph, the general said it was always difficult to judge whether any military operation was worth the sacrifice of soldiers' lives.
He is understood to be the first British officer to publicly state that war was worth the sacrificing the lives of British troops.
The general said: "It's always a very difficult question to answer. Different soldiers will give you different answers, depending on their experiences. We all know that being a member of the Armed Forces on operations is not without risk.
"The picture in Iraq is very positive right now. We (the coalition) got rid of a dictator, we have given freedom to Iraqis, we have seen the start of a democratic process, we have seen things get better. The Iraqis are very friendly towards us and they are actually very appreciative of what we've done and the sacrifices that have been made so we have given something precious. So the sacrifices of our mates have not been in vain, so in that respect it has been worth it."
The general added: "These are not just my views but the view of the majority of the soldiers. I ask them 'Do you think it was worth it?' and they say 'yes our mates didn't die in vain'."
Gen Salmon, who has been in the post since last autumn, also believed now was the right time for the British to pull-out because the military task had been achieved.
The general added that the militias had been defeated and lost the support of the population, although he admitted that they still represented a threat.
He said: "For the UK military, it is a case of mission accomplished. We have achieved what we set out to do. We have got the Iraqi 14 Division up and running to manage security by itself. We have handed over Basra International Airport; we have created a secure and stable environment for social and political development to take place."
The general said that last month's provincial elections were a "litmus test" for the Iraqi army, which it had passed.
He added that the withdrawal of the British Armed Forces did not represent complete disengagement.
"Our leaving doesn't mean that the UK isn't here to stay. It will remain in a number of ways. There will be some diplomatic presence here, there willl be some trading relationships, some commercial activity. There is still a lot of work to help investment to take place and we need to help British investors to get in.
"There will still be defence relationship too. The work that we have been doing with the naval training teams, to help build capacity in the Iraqi navy and marines, will continue to take place and we will probably help with some of their officer training. So it's the end of this particular mission for the UK military but it's not the end of the UK partnership and relationship with Iraq as a nation state."
When asked what the future held for southern Basra and Iraq as a whole, the general admitted that significant challenges lay ahead.
He said that Basra needed billions of pounds of investment and reconstruction and redevelopment of the city could take up to 20 years.
He added: "Basra is a city which has been denied investment for more than 30 years and Iraq, as a whole, has major problems with corruption."
But despite the challenges, the general said that he believed the future was bright.
He said that the "geo-strategic" position of Basra - it is Iraq's only sea port - meant that it could become a major international city.
The general added: "Basra has a rail link to Baghdad, which has rail linked to Turkey, so in two steps you are at the borders of the European Union and that should not be lost on investors.
"There is social, economic and political development that needs to take place and we often use names like Dubai when we try and give people an idea of what Basra could become. I know that speaking to some of my Iraqi colleagues they talk about tax-free zones, like elsewhere in the Middle East. It is that sort of vision the Iraqis all have for Basra."
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Old 03-08-2009, 07:11 AM
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Default Iraq - so was it worth it?

Last Updated: 9:01PM GMT 07 Mar 2009

They were on the verge of humiliation but now British troops believe they can depart southern Iraq with their mission accomplished. Sean Rayment goes to Basra to assess their legacy.
On a balmy spring evening in early May 2007, a small and isolated British outpost in the centre of Basra was attacked by more than 200 insurgents. The militiamen followers of the Iranian-backed Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr had a simple plan: kill all of the 40 soldiers inside the base.
Had it been successful, the attack would have amounted to "strategic failure" for Britain in Iraq, and a retreat from the country would have been inevitable.
For more than four hours, the troops inside the Provincial Joint Coordination Centre (PJCC) fought off wave after wave of attack. Those inside the base later said that the British machine-gun barrels had glowed red after firing more than 9,000 rounds and killing dozens of insurgents.
Although the attack failed, it signalled to the British that the militias had the capability to plan, mount and launch large-scale operations without their knowledge. It was also the first real sign that the Iraqi Army would struggle to control the streets once the British had gone.
Most of the insurgents who took part in that attack almost two years ago came from the Hyaniyah area of Basra, one of the most deprived parts of the city.
But much has changed in Basra in the past 18 months, especially in the Hyaniyah. Where once street battles were fought, today British soldiers are working hand-in-glove with their Iraqi colleagues, opening schools and developing strategies for clearing rubbish. The troops are regarded as heroes and liberators and are greeted with smiles and handshakes from Iraqi civilians.
The transition is, according to both Iraqis and the British, nothing short of stunning. In some areas of the city, the property market is soaring, with some exclusive homes costing $400,000. One local businessman has built a hotel costing $15 million. There are even plans to create the city's first casino.
Major General Andy Salmon, the Commander of the Multinational Division in Basra, believes the war was worth the sacrifice of the 179 British servicemen and women who have so far died fighting in Iraq. He also believes it is now time for the British military to return home.
Maj Gen Salmon, a Royal Marine, has been involved in operations in Iraq for the past 18 years. He will be the last senior British officer to command in southern Iraq.
At the end of March, the long-awaited withdrawal will begin and an estimated 2,500 US troops will replace the British inside the Contingency Operating Base (COB), to be renamed Camp Charlie. By the end of July, virtually all British troops will have pulled out.
"It is a case of mission accomplished," Maj Gen Salmon told The Sunday Telegraph. "The Iraqis now effectively run their own affairs. They control the streets, and the militias have more or less been defeated."
He believes that, with the right investment, Basra could become a major international city, like Dubai. "It's close to Iraq's only deep-water port, it sits at the top of the Persian Gulf, and it has a rail link which extends to the Turkish border, so it's knocking on the door of the EU. I'm very confident that in 10, maybe 20 years' time, this place will be transformed and a large part of that is down to the British troops who served here.
"We have achieved what we set out to do. We have got the Iraqi 14 Division up and running to manage security by itself. We have handed over Basra International Airport. We have created a secure and stable environment for social and political development to take place.
"Everyone should be rightly proud of what has been achieved. There have been ups and downs but that is the same in any campaign. There is still a lot of work to help investment to take place, and we need to help British investors to get in. The sacrifices of our mates have not been in vain, so in that respect it has been worth it."
But when the last soldier flies out of Basra for the final time, others will question that assessment.
The Iraq War not only divided the nation, it also soured relations with Britain's European allies. The conflict lasted longer than the Second World War, cost the taxpayer in the region of 8 billion and tarnished Tony Blair's legacy; it showed that the US-led coalition had the power to topple a dictatorship but that it lacked the foresight to plan for a lasting peace. It exposed failings in the highest levels of military planning, and the battle for Basra almost left the British armed forces humiliated.
So as the 4,100-strong British force prepares to leave, what is Britain's legacy in southern Iraq?
In 2003, following the Coalition invasion, a region centred on Basra came under British control. Initial joy among the local Shia population at the toppling of Saddam Hussein's regime turned to frustration and, on occasion, to violence.
In August 2007, Basra Palace, the British Army's last base in the city, was given up to Iraqi provincial control and the British withdrew to the Contingency Operating Base six miles from the city. The ceremony was sombre. Many British troops had died in the weeks leading up to the handover as the militias, most notably the Jaish al-Mahdi (JAM) led by al-Sadr, fought to seize control of the city.
The controversial pull-out was the end to a politically motivated mission to get British troops out of Iraq as quickly as possible. While the plan looked good on paper, the reality was different.
Within weeks of the British handover, the Iraqi Army in Basra had lost control of the streets a devastating blow for the British generals who had planned on the assumption that it was a competent fighting force. In Baghdad, American officers accused the British of jeopardising the security of southern Iraq; it was the British Army's lowest point in the entire campaign.
Basra descended into chaos, intimidation and murder were rife, women were executed for merely looking "too western", and the COB faced rocket and mortar attacks almost hourly.
Britain had once prided itself on its counter-insurgency strategy, but the failure to defeat the militias in Basra forced British generals to accept that the lessons they had learnt after 30 years of fighting in Ulster were no longer relevant.
The militias' rule lasted until March 2008 when Nuri al-Maliki, the Iraqi president, ordered his army to retake the city in "Operation Charge of the Knights". After a series of false starts, the militias were eventually forced out in May last year.
Today, Basra and southern Iraq are both relatively stable. The "monopoly of violence", according to Maj Gen Salmon, is now in the hands of the Iraqi Army.
One of the most competent officers in the Iraqi army is Colonel Khalid, the commander of 26th Brigade's 3rd battalion. The word among the British is that nothing happens on his patch without his knowledge or approval. Colonel Khalid is charged with the responsibility of controlling the Hyaniyah.
Home to around 600,000 people, this former militia stronghold is one of the most impoverished and densely populated areas in the whole of Basra, built by Saddam Hussein to house tens of thousands of Marsh Arabs "cleansed" from their historical home along the Shatt al-Arab. Today, it languishes at the bottom end of Third World poverty. Here, flocks of sheep feed off rubbish piles, unemployment stands at around 40 per cent, and the stench from open sewers, where bare-footed children play, hangs in the air.
"Today, the Hyaniyah is safe," Colonel Khalid told The Sunday Telegraph. "The insurgents have gone. They know that we will arrest them or kill them if they return. Some have been killed, others arrested and some have gone to Iran. The people here do not want them any more."
After the "Charge of the Knights", the British Army returned to Basra to work alongside the Iraqi army in Military Transition Teams (Mitts). Their role is to gently advise the Iraqi army on how to win the consent of the people. Around 850 British troops are still involved in "Mitting" around Basra, but as each day passes the role of the British diminishes.
When Brigadier General Sabah, the commander of 26 Brigade, opened the new Haleema Al Saadeyah school last Saturday, he was greeted by several hundred schoolgirls all screaming "Viva Iraq! Viva Iraq!". The adulation he and his men received is yet further proof of the trust the Iraqi public now has in its army. Once an ill-disciplined and incompetent rabble, today it is a confident and professional force, which has the support of around 97 per cent of the population.
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Old 03-08-2009, 07:12 AM
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Default cont/d

Brig Sabah says he is grateful for the help from the British and for "the sacrifices of your soldiers". But, he says, the time has now come to leave.
"We no longer need any help from anyone. We are not ungrateful, we are thankful to our friends who released us from Saddam's prison. Your sacrifices and our sacrifices have helped us to get to where we are now. But now we can run Basra. We control Basra now."
Despite the optimism, the city's future remains uncertain. There is real concern in and around Basra that the insurgents could profit from growing discontent over the lack of jobs, especially among young males.
On Leaf Island, which lies to the north-west of Basra, Sabbah, a 22-year-old fisherman, complains about the lack of work.
"It is good that the militias have gone. But I have no work neither do any of my brothers or their friends. If we don't get work soon, the militias will return and they will say 'Come and work for us, we will pay you', and some of the young men will go."
While troops in Basra prepare for the final withdrawal from Iraq, the nation's military chiefs are now focused on an even greater challenge: Afghanistan. The Iraq War and the conflict in Afghanistan are often grouped together but remain very different problems. It is difficult to draw lessons from the Iraq campaign that might also be relevant in Afghanistan because the countries and the insurgencies are vastly different. But one of the reasons why Britain almost lost the Battle of Basra was because there were too few troops on the streets.
David Miliband, the Foreign Secretary, said last week that the war in Afghanistan was "not a numbers game". Well, commanders in Iraq disagree. Just about all the senior British officers in Iraq to whom I spoke agreed that more troops needed to be sent to Helmand to ensure that the mistakes made in Iraq should not be repeated in Afghanistan.
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Old 03-08-2009, 12:18 PM
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My view is that it was worth it.. the British Government and the British Army in particular did a fantastic job is taking, occupying and rehabilitating Basra... The professionalism of the BA is a credit to the UK. Its something that the British Nation should firstly understand and secondly appreciate...

As for leaving Basra, the adaptation of the British Regular for guerilla warefare has being impressive and counter insurgent warefare applications on smaller but very desruptive militias has being very impressive...

I think the mentoring of the Iraqi Army will continue for years, but certainly a positive leap forward for the good guys!!..
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