By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
Dec. 10, 2007 - Basra, the second-largest city in Iraq, will be turned over to Iraqi provincial control in the next two weeks, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown announced yesterday during a visit to Iraq. The city will be the largest population turned over to the Iraqis and will complete the turnover to the Iraqis of the southern provinces of the country.
Brown told British soldiers gathered at Basra International Airport that he had spoken with Iraqi Prime Minster Nouri al-Maliki by phone. "He asked me to pass on his thanks to you for what you have done to help rebuild the democracy of Iraq," Brown said. "And it is because of all the operations that we have done over these last few months, indeed over these last few years, and particularly in recent times, that the security situation has not only improved, but he was able to tell me that he is now recommending that we move to provincial Iraqi control within two weeks so that the Iraqis can take far more responsibility for the security of the country."
British and Australian forces have trained 30,000 members of the Iraqi security forces in the region. "So, as a result of that, we can move to provincial Iraqi control over the next few weeks," he said.
"The reason why security is so much better here, the reason why things have improved, the reason why there is progress is because of you, because of what you have achieved, what you have done," he said. "And I want to thank all your leadership, and I want to thank every single one of you for what is being done."
British forces will assume overwatch position in the area, British defense officials said. About 4,700 British servicemembers are in Iraq now. These forces will move to the airport and be on call if needed by Iraqi security forces. British forces will continue to train Iraqi forces and will continue to monitor their progress, but all operations will be under Iraqi command, officials said.
Brown told the soldiers that the world admires their professionalism, courage and dedication. "We have managed now to get Iraq into a far better position, not that violence has ended, not that there is no security problem, not that it is safe in all the different areas in which you operate, but we are able to move to provincial Iraqi control, and that is thanks to everything that you have achieved," he said.