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End of UK military presence in Iraq; Tories call for Franks’ report on the war

Thursday, April 30th 2009 - 23:29 UTC
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A ceremony has been held in Basra Thursday to mark the official end of the six-year British military presence in Iraq, reports BBC. UK combat operations ended as 20 Armoured Brigade took part in a flag-lowering ceremony with a US brigade.

In London, Prime Minister Gordon Brown said a new chapter in relations between the two countries had begun.

Opposition leader David Cameron has called for an immediate full inquiry into the Iraq war, similar to the one carried out by the Franks Committee into the Falklands conflict.

Earlier, a memorial service attended by Defence Secretary John Hutton took place in Basra for the 179 UK personnel who have died during the conflict.

The focus was a memorial wall featuring the names of the 234 UK and foreign troops and civilians who lost their lives under British command in Iraq.

The end of combat operations came a month ahead of schedule.

Mr Brown, who held talks with Iraqi counterpart Nouri Maliki at Downing Street, said: “Today Iraq is a success story. We owe much of that to the efforts of British troops. Our mission has not always been an easy one, many have said that we would fail. ”Britain can be proud of our legacy that we leave there.“

Mr Maliki said: ”There are people in Iraq who want the government to fail but our army and armed forces are ready to face these challenges.“

The names of those who died on the UK's Operation Telic were read out at the memorial service, which included Italian, Dutch, Danish, American and Romanian troops.

The last post was sounded by a bugler and prayers were said. There was also a roar overhead as a lone Tornado aircraft conducted a fly-past in tribute.

Lt Col Edward Chamberlain, commanding officer of Iraq-based battalion 5 Rifles, said: ”We've been slowly working, as part of a coalition together over the six years, to achieve an end-state which is an Iraq which is secure, happy, at peace with itself and its neighbours.

“We're slowly but surely transitioning towards that.”

Mr Hutton said the UK should be proud of what its troops had achieved.

“It's been a long and hard campaign. There's been no question about that, and we've paid a very high price,” he said.

“But I think when the history is written of this campaign, they will say of the British military: 'We did a superb job.'”

Shadow Defence Secretary Dr Liam Fox said that while army personnel were leaving Iraq, “the Royal Navy is still active there and we must remember the strong presence they still have in the Gulf”.

Opposition leader David Cameron has called for an immediate full inquiry into the Iraq war, similar to the one carried out by the Franks Committee into the Falklands conflict.

He said: “After years of foot-dragging, I believe it is the time for the government to announce a proper Franks-style inquiry. Instead of starting in many months' time, it should start right now.

”There are vital lessons to learn and we need to learn them rapidly and the only justification for delay can, I'm afraid, be a political one.“

British forces 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.

The civilian death toll in Basra as a result of the conflict is estimated at between 3,302 and 3,766, according to data from the Iraq Body Count.

Asked about the UK presence in Iraq, the country's president, Jalal Talabani, told BBC News that the mission had been one of liberation.

”In the past the British forces came to occupy against the will of the Iraqi people,“ he said. ”This time they came here to liberate Iraqi people from the worst kind of dictatorship.“

But the UK Stop the War Coalition said the operation had been an ”unmitigated disaster“, and the tragedy of British military deaths had been made more acute by the ”pointlessness“ of their presence.

A spokesman added: ”The British soldiers will leave Basra in a much worse condition than they found it, its population depleted and demoralised, its infrastructure devastated.“

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 was ending.

Some were serving on their fourth tour, taking them away from home for two years out of the last six.

Our correspondent says 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.

In related news British Defence giant BAE Systems is to close three factories in the UK, resulting in the loss of 500 jobs. The sites at Telford, Leeds and Guildford will close by the end of the year. It will also cut jobs at locations in Newcastle and Barrow.

It comes on the day that the UK formally ends its military presence in Iraq after six years. The cuts are in its combat vehicles and weapons unit. BAE previously announced it would cut 200 jobs in November.

The Unite union expressed its dismay at the decision.

”We are extremely disappointed, as this announcement impacts the UK's ability to build and design the next-generation armoured vehicles and other equipment,“ said Unite's national officer Bernie Hamilton.

BAE's job losses come after a ”downturn in work“ related to the military missions in Iraq and Afghanistan. The UK government in December postponed a program to build as many as 2,000 armoured utility vehicles.

”Our forecast UK order intake has reduced and we have to match the size of our business appropriately to the projected nature and volume of workload,” the company said.

The unit, the Global Combat Systems Vehicles and Weapons business, employs about 1,820 people in the UK.

BAE said about 100 roles from the three sites that are closing will be transferred to its sites in Leicester and Newcastle.

The Leeds office works on design, while the sites in Guilford and Telford provided support services. The Telford factory worked on maintenance for the Bulldog and Warrior combat vehicles used in Iraq, for example.

BAE employs 105,000 people worldwide, with 32,600 of those based in the UK at 80 sites.

Categories: Politics, International.

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