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British Troops End Mission in Basra, Hand Over to US


British forces turned over command of military operations in the southern Iraqi city of Basra to US troops on Sunday. A truck bomb that exploded Tuesday in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, however, indicates that the military situation in many places is still tenuous.

A final bugle call marked the handover by British troops in the southern Iraqi province of Basra to U.S. forces, in a ceremony attended by U.S. commander, General Ray Odierno.

The British contingent in Iraq is gradually reducing its presence before an expected withdrawal of all 4,000 British troops by the end of May.

Iraqi TV also showed Iraqi troops raising their own flag over positions in the oil-rich, mostly-Shi'ite southern port city of Basra.

On Sunday, during a thank you ceremony for the departing British troops, Major General Andy Salmon said he and his men were sorry to be "leaving behind the many friends they'd made in Iraq," and that looking back in hindsight, there would be things he'd do differently.

"[We] worked really hard with Iraqi security forces to help bring security and stability to Basra. In terms of what we wanted to do differently, I think we've been through some difficult times, the campaign's enjoyed peaks and it's enjoyed troughs just like most campaigns do and I think it's for people now to reflect on the successes and learn the lessons and I know that process will happen when we get back," he said.

British commanders handed over control of Basra's civilian airport to Iraqi troops last January, during the first phase of their withdrawal.

The top U.S. commander in Iraq, General Ray Odierno, noted that US troops would "stand shoulder-to-shoulder" with the Iraqi people and the Iraqi Army, as they "continue to stand on their own."

Analyst Majid Saree told Al Iraqia TV that Iraqi troops are now "well-equipped" and capable of controlling the situation in Basra.

Elsewhere, in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, where security is more tenuous, a suicide truck bomber rammed through a wall of sandbags Tuesday, before crashing into a police station. At least eight people were killed and a dozen wounded in the explosion.

Despite a recent rash of violence, U.S. forces are scheduled to withdraw to positions outside major Iraqi cities within the next three months.

All U.S. troops are to due to leave Iraq by the end of 2011 under a military agreement between Iraq and the United States, approved by the Iraqi parliament last November.


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