Britain stayed in Basra longer because of US: commander

Britain was prepared to withdraw its forces from the southern Iraqi city of Basra in April, but held off for five months after the United States asked it to stay, Britain's military commander in Iraq said in an interview published on Monday.

Britain stayed in Basra longer because of US: commander
Britain was prepared to withdraw its forces from the southern Iraqi city of Basra in April, but held off for five months after the United States asked it to stay, Britain's military commander in Iraq said in an interview published on Monday.

Speaking to The Daily Telegraph, Brigadier James Bashall, commander of 1 Mechanised Brigade, said that he wanted to leave Britain's Basra Palace base in April, something he said would have been "the right thing to do."

"In April we could have come out and done the transition completely and that would have been the right thing to do but politics prevented that," Bashall, 44, told the paper.

"The Americans asked us to stay for longer," he said, adding the decision to stay in the city was a result of "political strategy being played out at highest level."

On Monday, around 500 British soldiers slipped out of the former Saddam Hussein palace, handing over security to Iraqi forces.

The British military has now handed over four of the five bases in the Basra province to Iraqi forces, after four and a half inconclusive years of fighting since the US-led March 2003 invasion.

Britain's entire military force of 5,500 troops is now based at Basra's desert air base, 11 kilometres (seven miles) west of Basra city.

Of those 5,500, about 250 will be withdrawn over the next four weeks as part of a plan to reduce overall troop numbers there to about 5,000.

Responding to Bashall's interview, the Ministry of Defence said in a statement: "The decision to hand over Basra Palace was part of a conditions-based transition, developed in consultation with the Iraqi government and our coalition partners."

"We were able to hand over the Palace because of progress made and capability demonstrated, by the Iraqi Security Forces, particularly the Army. We handed Basra Palace over this month only when the conditions were right and the Iraqi forces were ready to take over.

AFP
Last Mod: 10 Eylül 2007, 13:18
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