Britain ends Iraq combat mission
British troops ended six years of combat operations in Iraq on Thursday, beginning their withdrawal from the southern city of Basra after a bloody and costly mission that was deeply unpopular at home.
Prime Minister Gordon Brown praised the military’s accomplishments and sacrifices, speaking after meeting with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki at Brown’s Downing Street office.
“Today marks the closing chapter of the combat mission in Iraq,” Brown said, adding that Britain’s remaining 3,700 troops had begun to leave their base on the outskirts of Basra.
Since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion, 179 British service personnel have died in Iraq.
In Basra, the British military held a ceremony to honor those who died, reading aloud the names.
“They will always be remembered for the service they have given. Our country owes them a huge debt of gratitude,” Brown said.
Brown, who supported predecessor Tony Blair’s decision to join the invasion, defended Britain’s military mission, saying it had helped to bring new opportunities to Iraq’s people.
“Today Iraq is a success story. We owe much of that to the efforts of British troops. Our mission has not always been an easy one; many have said that we would fail,” he told reporters.
Maliki and other Iraqi officials, including the oil minister, Hussein Shahristani, were in London to attend an investment conference with about 250 companies, including Royal Dutch Shell and Rolls-Royce.
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