By Sudarsan Raghavan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, April 1, 2009
BAGHDAD, March 31 -- British forces handed over control of their base in Basra to the U.S. military Tuesday, a symbol of Britain's withdrawal from Iraq six years after the U.S.-led invasion toppled Saddam Hussein.
"We have shed blood together and that is a bond that no man can break," Gen. Ray Odierno, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, told British and Iraqi officials. "You have restored hope where chaos reigned."
Britain, America's closest Western ally in Iraq, once had as many as 40,000 troops in the country but has gradually reduced its presence as Iraqis have taken over more security responsibilities. The 4,100 British troops still in Iraq are scheduled to leave by the end of July, although a few hundred will remain as advisers, British officials said.
At a ceremony, Maj. Gen. Andy Salmon, the senior British commander in Basra, handed over control of the military base in the southern port city to U.S. Maj. Gen. Michael Oates. An estimated 7,000 American troops will replace the British soldiers by the end of the summer. The province and its airport were returned to Iraqi government control three months ago.
The handover came on a violent day in northern Iraq. A suicide bomber driving a truck loaded with explosives struck a police station in Mahata, south of the city of Mosul, on Tuesday morning. The attack killed seven people, including four policemen, and wounded 38, provincial police said.
Special correspondent Dlovan Brwari in Mosul contributed to this report.