UK Hands Southern Iraq Over to Iraqis

UK Hands Control of Last Province to Iraq Forces

Britain handed over security on Sunday to Iraqi forces in the last of four provinces it once patrolled, effectively marking the end of nearly five years of British control of southern Iraq.

Thousands of Iraqi police and troops marked the handover with a parade along the palm-fringed embankment of Basra, the country's second-biggest city, in a show of Iraqi military force on a scale unseen since the days of Saddam Hussein. They drove past in heavy tanks, armoured vehicles, pick-up trucks with mounted machine guns and police patrol cars with flashing lights. Iraqi helicopters buzzed overhead and gunboats sailed up the Shatt al-Arab waterway which leads from the Gulf. "Today we stand at a historic juncture and a special day, one of the greatest days in the modern history of Basra," provincial governor Mohammed Mosbah al-Waeli said at a ceremony held in the departure lounge at Basra airport, where a scaled-down British force now has its last remaining base.

Control of Basra province will be the biggest test yet of the Baghdad government's ability to keep the peace without relying on troops from either the United States or its main ally.

With Iraq's second-largest city, only major port and nearly all its oil exports, Basra is far more populous, wealthier and more strategically located than any of the other eight of Iraq's 18 provinces previously placed under formal Iraqi control.

The British commander, Major-General Graham Binns, said Iraqi security forces had "proved that they are capable". "I came to rid Basra of its enemies but I now formally hand Basra back to its friends," said Binns, who also led the force that captured the city from Saddam's troops in 2003.

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Unpopular British Hand Over Security Control in Basra
By Juan Cole
Informed Comment

In Iraq's deep south, Britain turns general control of security matters over to Iraqi officials on Sunday in Basra province. This move has little effect in itself on the British troop presence, now 5500 men stationed out at the airport. But PM Gordon Brown has pledged to reduce their numbers to only 2500 next March, and it seem likely most will be gone by the end of 2008.

A recent poll conducted in Basra has little good news in it for the British in the south.

In the poll, only 2 percent of Basra residents felt that the British military had had had a positive impact on the security situation in the southern port. Some 86% said that the British impact has been negative! Not surprisingly, 83% said they wanted British troops to leave Iraq altogether. The BBC adds:
' Two-thirds felt security would improve in the short term, while 72% said it would improve in the long term. Only 5% said security would deteriorate following the withdrawal. '
These numbers really are suggestive of a colonial experiment gone badly wrong. If the British had been in the Iraqi south as helpmeets to Iraqi authorities, as former PM Tony Blair often alleged, it is hard to imagine that the people there would be this hostile.

Shiite Factions in Basra Urged to Check Violence
By Jumana Al Tamimi
Gulf News

The Iraqi authorities, after formally taking control of the security of Basra from British troops on Sunday, vowed not to allow anyone to threaten the stability of the province.

Security of the southern town which has been facing a power struggle between rival Shiite groups is vital, said a government spokesperson.

Speaking to Gulf News hours after the official handover ceremony, spokesperson Ali Dabbagh said, "The government will not allow the differences and power struggle in some of the southern provinces [including Basra] to take an armed dimension or the form of military action.

Rule of law

"The government will face any attempt [to endanger Basra's security] with all firmness, and it is obligated to impose the rule of law," Dabbagh added.

Basra has been witnessing an increasing internal Shiite power struggle. Basra is the fourth and final province under British control since the 2003 invasion to be handed over to the Iraqis.

"This is one of the main achievements of the National Unity government. ... our biggest challenge is to maintain the security in Basra," Iraq's national security adviser Muwaffaq Al Rubaie said at the handover ceremony.

Zawahiri: Brits Have Decided to ‘Flee’ Iraq
Middle East Online

WASHINGTON - Britain's decision to "flee" Iraq shows the insurgency is stronger than ever, Al-Qaeda's number two said Sunday, after British forces transferred security control in Basra province to the Iraqis.

In a 98-minute Al-Qaeda videotape with English subtitles, Ayman Al-Zawahiri said recent reports from Iraq reveal "an increase in the strength of the Mujahideen and a deterioration in the Americans' conditions, despite their desperate attempts to deceive and mislead.

"And the decision of the British to flee is sufficient" proof, Zawahiri said in a video clip provided to AFP by the SITE Intelligence Group, a private US company that tracks Jihadist activities.

Al-Qaeda released the videotape to jihadist forums Sunday, according to SITE.

Iraq formally took security control of the southern oil province of Basra from British forces Sunday, paving the way for Britain to sharply reduce its nearly 5,000-strong troop presence.

Basra, the ninth of Iraq's 18 provinces to be returned to local control by the US-led coalition, is the fourth and final province under British control since the 2003 invasion to be transferred.

Zawahiri however said that in his view Iraq is the world's foremost arena for Jihad and that "the condition of the Iraqi Jihad is - overall - excellent."

He said US claims of progress, including in the September 2007 report to US Congress by top US commander in Iraq, General David Petraeus, and the US ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker, are "empty propaganda meant to cover up the American failure in Iraq."

He urged Muslims to join jihad in several countries, including Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Chechnya, and Algeria, where Al-Qaeda claimed a twin-car bomb attack last week that left at least 34 dead.

"We must strip those regimes of legitimacy, and recognize neither their constitutions nor their laws nor participate in their elections and councils which rule by other than what Allah sent down," he said, according to a SITE summary.

The Al-Qaeda leader turned his rhetorical rage on Iran, alleging that it had worked with the Americans to undermine the Taliban and to divide Iraq, and was soft on Israel.

Tehran, he said, was guilty of "a historic mark of shame against itself and all of the Shiites who follow it," which "will stay in the memory of the Muslims for a long time to come," he said.

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