London and Washington must have hoped the parade of Iraqi security forces would mean Basra was calm and peaceful. But the end of British control sees the province perhaps more dangerous than ever.
There are increasing clashes between rival factions, and a surge in militant Islamic attacks. But Major General Graham Binns was optimistic. “After four years of training the approximately 30,000 strong Iraqi army, navy and police forces, today marks officially the recognition that these brave Iraqis will control the security of the province,” he said.
Officials and politicians on both sides strove to appear confident, but maintaining law and order in Basra will be the biggest test yet of Baghdad’s ability to function without the support of British or American forces.
Local troops now take over security in a region which has largely escaped the vicious sectarian killing traumatising much of the rest of Iraq.
Basra province is home to Iraq’s second city, its only major port, and is the hub of the country’s oil exports. There are 4,500 British troops in the region, about a tenth of the force sent by then-Prime Minister Tony Blair to help remove Saddam Hussein in 2003. Blair’s successor, Gordon Brown, has promised those numbers will be cut to around 2,500 by next summer. 174 British soldiers have died whilst serving in Iraq.