Iraq mission winds down  

By staff

Operations in Iraq are winding down, with the UK handing over power to the US.

The pull-out comes after six years of fighting and 179 British troop deaths.

The Americans assumed command of the southern region of Iraq, in advance of their own withdrawal next year, during a ceremony around 12:20 BST today.

Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg said: “We must never forget the enormous sacrifices that our troops made in this conflict. Their bravery and professionalism have been matched only by the incompetence of their political masters.

“Today marks the end of a dark chapter in British foreign policy. The decision to go to war on a false pretext was the most disastrous foreign policy decision since Suez.”

A memorial service was held earlier today at Basra airbase.

During a joint press conference with Iraqi prime minister Nuri al-Maliki in Downing Street today, Mr Brown stressed the success of the mission.

Mr al-Maliki urged British companies to invest in Iraq.

Senior military figures stressed that Basra was a calmer, more peaceful place than when the British had arrived.

But anti-war campaigners will be less kind in their assessments, stressing the lives lost in the conflict outweigh any limited achievements.

There is also criticism – even in military quarters – of the manner in which Nouri al-Maliki’s Medhi army was allowed to effectively take over the city.

Seven hundred troops will be deployed to Afghanistan in the summer, where British and American forces are now concentrating their campaign.

Complete withdrawal will occur by July 31st, leaving just 400 personnel to help train the Iraq Navy. But the British mission will officially ended today.