Iraq

British Troops In Iraq: The Basra Handover Ten Years On

In 2009, the UK closed down its role in a conflict that had claimed 179 British lives.

The handover ceremony in Basra took place in 2009, marking the conclusion of British combat operations.

Ten years ago this week, a flag lowering ceremony was held in Basra in Iraq to mark the official end of Britain's combat operations in the country.

It ended the military mission, known as Operation Telic, which had begun with the 2003 invasion.

The conflict claimed the lives of more than 200 British nationals, including 179 UK soldiers, with many more being seriously injured.

In the final days the British troops spent in Basra, there was a series of ceremonies to mark the end of more than six years of UK combat operations in Iraq.

'You can't be there forever' - Major General Andy SalmonBasra Divisional Commander in 2009 on the situation in Iraq today

Tens of thousands had been sent to fight because the belief weapons of mass destruction were present.

But the country's dictator had fallen swiftly, and a new democracy was emerging.

The UK subsequently closed down its role in the conflict.

The south of Iraq was handed over to US forces, whose combat mission continued for another 16 months.

More than half a million members of Iraq's new security forces had been trained and equipped, but the country had paid a high price - 150,000 had been killed and a million displaced.

More violence laid ahead.

In 2010, a disputed election was followed by the return to a widespread insurgency, and ultimately, to the rise of the so-called Islamic State terror group.

The Iraq Inquiry later found Britain had failed to achieve its objectives in Iraq, or to see the magnitude of the job that would be required after the invasion.

Yet even today, some of the key players still feel it is not that simple.

Former Home and Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said: "If you are a decision maker, particularly, in respect of a military action, you have got to be aware that military action is violent."

He added:

"Violence is chaotic and unpredictable in its outcome."

Ten years on, British troops have are back in Iraq.

Major General Andy Salmon, UK Divisional Commander in 2009, told Forces News he feels "great sadness" at the current situation in Iraq, which he described as "chaos".

"You can't be there forever," Maj Gen Salmon said.

"You hope that the legacy that you've left behind, the people that you've worked with and helped them create a coherent government and coherent security, you hope that they are going to be able to continue it.

"I don't predict, necessarily, a wonderfully optimistic situation.

"We just hope it gets better with the benefit of ten years of stability if that's possible."

British troops photocall Iraq
British troops in Iraq in 2009.

The UK has played a leading role in a 67-member coalition fighting IS, with the militant group's "final defeat" being declared in March.

The British air operation against so-called Islamic State began in Iraq on 26 September 2014 following a formal request for assistance by the Iraqi government.

The mission, known as Operation Shader, also involved UK personnel in Iraq training security forces in the country, a role continuing even after the defeat of IS.

Since 2014, the UK has trained more than 89,000 Iraqi forces, including more than 13,000 Kurdish Peshmerga, in weapons maintenance, counter IED, medical and engineering skills.