Soldiers Head Home as UK Completes Withdrawal of Iraq Combat Forces

21 May 2009 (Last Updated May 21st, 2009 18:30)

The last remaining British combat forces stationed in Basra have left, completing the UK's withdrawal from Iraq. The personnel of 15 Squadron Royal Air Force Regiment are now headed to their home base, RAF Honington in Suffolk, for an emotional reunion with their loved ones.

The last remaining British combat forces stationed in Basra have left, completing the UK's withdrawal from Iraq.

The personnel of 15 Squadron Royal Air Force Regiment are now headed to their home base, RAF Honington in Suffolk, for an emotional reunion with their loved ones.

US forces have taken over the Contingency Operating Base in Basra, where a small number of remaining UK non-combat personnel, tasked with ensuring a safe and ordered withdrawal of all UK forces' kit and equipment from Southern Iraq, are still stationed.

Wing Commander Simeon Sharples said that since their arrival, the RAF Regiment and other elements of the Force Protection Wing have been instrumental in fostering relations with the Iraqi people in their patrol area.

"To me, the proof that Iraq is changing for the better is that these days my guys can go out and work alongside the Iraqi police and Army and help develop something close to a normal policing role," he said.

During its tour the RAF regiment responded to many incidents ranging from intruders to the airfield to combating insurgent rocket teams targeting the airfield.

Four gunners from the regiment lost their lives, including three during one rocket attack in July 2007.

By the end of July all military personnel will have withdrawn from Basra. Any UK military personnel remaining in Iraq beyond that time will do so at the request of the Government of Iraq, as part of a broad-based bilateral relationship to promote economic, cultural, commercial, educational and defence co-operation.

UK forces have also completed their training and mentoring of the 14th Division of the Iraqi Army in Basra – the key remaining UK military task set out by the Prime Minister in 2008.

14th Division is now an effective force, firmly in control of Basra.

By Daniel Garrun.