British forces formally handed over responsibility Sunday for the last region in Iraq under their control. With the handover of Basra, nine of the country's 18 provinces have reverted to Iraqi government control.
The commander of British forces in Basra, Maj. Gen. Graham Binns, said the city had been pulled from the grip of its enemies. "I now formally hand it back to its friends," Binns said shortly before adding his signature to papers relinquishing responsibility for the overwhelmingly Shiite region, home to most of Iraq's oil reserves. "We will continue to help train Basra security forces. But we are guests in your country, and we will act accordingly."
According to the AP, Mowafaq al-Rubaie, Iraq's national security adviser, said his government was ready and called on Basra's citizens to work together. "Your unity is essential in rebuilding your city. You have to come together and unify - Sunnis, Shiites, Muslims and non-Muslims and nationalists," he stated.
British Foreign Secretary David Miliband, who also attended the handover ceremony, said Britain would remain a "committed friend" of Iraq. But he acknowledged Britain was not handing over "a land of milk and honey" to local forces.
"This remains a violent society whose tensions need to addressed, but they need to be addressed by Iraqi political leaders, and it is politics that is going to have to come to the fore in the months and years ahead," he told the British Broadcasting Corp.
Binns said British forces would remain to help the Iraqis. "Our help will continue to be one of assistance, not interference. To support, not to direct. To listen, not to ignore," Binns said. "This will be achieved by actions, not just by words. This is our promise to you, the people of Basra."