In Iraq, British forces hand over control of Basra to the US
American forces will seek to disprove the perception that they are more heavy-handed than the British.
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Some 4,000 British forces are now in Basra, down from more than 46,000 at the start of the war. Most will be gone by the end of May. Since 2003, 179 British soldiers have been killed here.
When British troops leave, Romania will be the last remaining member of the US-led "coalition of the willing," which numbered more than 30 couintries near the beginning of the war.
"I don't think it's the end of the coalition," says British Maj. Gen. Andy Salmon, after handing over authority to his US counterpart. "[Britain] will be part of the coalition for some time doing different things, some longer-term bilateral defense deals that need to be worked out ... as well as a host of training."
Britain is likely to agree directly with the Iraqi government to keep a contingent of troops to train the nascent Iraqi Navy in the port of Um Qasr.
US forces arriving over the next several months are to focus on training and mentoring the Iraqi police and border security guards. Despite an agreement with the Iraqi government to remove all soldiers from Iraqi cities by this June, Iraqi authorities are likely to ask US forces to remain in Basra, where police have been heavily influenced by Shiite militias, officials say.
Basra's 'unique challenge'
"I think there's a unique challenge in Basra," says Maj. Gen. Michael Oates, who will head up what will be called the Multinational Division South. "Things are going very well here but there's a perception by some people that the US forces are more heavy-handed than the British."
"We have a great reputation [in the rest] of southern Iraq, but they don't know us very well here in Basra and we've got a little work to do to convince them that we are good partners," he says in an interview following the hand over.
Britain has a much longer history and traditionally much deeper ties with Iraq. The country was under British Mandate from 1920 to 1932 – the British historically created many of Iraq's institutions, including the Army.
After helping topple the Iraqi regime in 2003, British forces were received with open arms in the Shiite south, one of the regions which had suffered the most under Saddam Hussein. Patrolling in berets rather than bullet-proof helmets, they prided themselves on a rapport with local residents.
As Basra became more violent, though, and Shiite extremists more powerful, some Basra residents accused British forces of essentially handing over the city to the Shiite militias, which terrorized residents for almost two years.
Although violence has gone down across the country, a mortar on the airfield in Baghdad delayed the plane carrying several military commanders and reporters on their way to the ceremony. As sirens sounded, the one- and two-star generals and everyone else on board ducked and covered their heads until the all-clear was given.