After more than six years of fighting, the UK has today announced the successful completion of their combat mission in Basra and the withdrawal of British troops from southern Iraq.

Having already drawn down the divisional headquarters a month ago, the UK forces have handed over the coalition brigade command to US forces to mark the transition from a combat mission to focusing on helping the Iraqi Government rebuild.

UK Defence Secretary John Hutton joined forces stationed at the Contingency Operating Base (COB) outside Basra for a day of reflection, commemoration and celebration of British achievements in Iraq since Operation Telic was launched in 2003.

“The past six years have seen a heavy price paid,” said Hutton. “179 brave people have died in the service of their country on Operation Telic. But Iraq’s progress over the six years, no matter how uneven or uncertain it may have appeared at times, shows that their sacrifice has not been in vain.

“Following the peaceful elections in January, Basra has a new democratically elected and representative Provincial Council. Protected by the Iraqi Security Forces we have trained, the city finally has the chance to achieve its full potential. Basra is a better place for our men and women being there and I pay tribute to all of them,” he added.

The last day of the British mission was marked today by two main events; the official ‘transfer of authority’ to US forces, and a meeting between the defence minister and leaving military contingents as well as the few Royal Navy personnel who will be staying behind to continue to train the Iraqi Navy.

By Daniel Garrun.