Basra security improvements ‘down to UK army’

British troops have been praised for their “vital role” in the improved security situation in Basra, Iraq.

The defence committee says the security situation in the south of the country has been transformed in the past six months.

Its members claim British troops have helped Iraqi security forces to become self-sufficient and effective.

UK troops withdrew from their last base in Basra City last September, with the majority of soldiers now based at the city’s airport.

At the beginning of the Iraq invasion in 2003 there were 26,000 UK soldiers in the country, but now only 4,000 remain, mostly in Basra.

Since the invasion 176 British army personnel or MoD civilians have been killed, 136 as a result of hostile action, but there have been no deaths since the end of March.

Speaking in Basra this weekend Gordon Brown said UK troop levels in Iraq would decline but no specific date for an overall withdrawal would be announced.

In their report MPs on the defence committee, who visited Basra last month – a year after their first visit – say the most important task for the UK military presence is maintaining the training of Iraqi security forces.

Committee chairman James Arbuthnot said Basra is “a world away” from June 2007.

“The Iraqi security forces have restored law and order to many parts of the city and the UK is working with them now to safeguard that stability and develop their capabilities,” he said. “That will need a continuing commitment from the UK to maintain a military training presence in Iraq.”

Mr Arbuthnot added that the British presence in Basra had helped to secure Iraqi oil supplies and bring stability to the Gulf.

He praised UK troops for coping with what he said were difficult, dangerous and delicate operations.