About British forces pull out of base in southern Iraq
|August 24th, 2006||#1|
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British forces pull out of base in southern Iraq info
Byline: By ELENA BECATOROS
Date: 24 August 2006
BAGHDAD, Iraq_British troops on Thursday pulled out of a base in southern
Iraq that had come under frequent attack, aiming to reposition their forces
along the area bordering Iran and crack down on smuggling.
Camp Abu Naji in Amarah, 320 kilometers (200 miles) southeast of Baghdad,
was turned over to Iraqi authorities, Maj. Charlie Burbridge, a spokesman
for British forces, said from Basra.
The camp in Maysan province, which had housed about 1,200 troops, had been
frequently targeted by militants over the past three years. On Tuesday, a
barrage of 17 mortar rounds was fired at the base, wounding a British
soldier. Another mortar landed in the camp on Wednesday, although it didn't
cause any casualties.
"If two days go by without some kind of attack in the direction of the camp,
we'd be surprised," Burbridge said Wednesday by telephone from Basra, where
the main British base is located in southern Iraq.
Amarah is a predominantly Shiite city where anti-U.S. cleric Muqtada
al-Sadr's Mahdi Army militia wields considerable influence.
British forces were being repositioned to the east and would focus on
tackling smuggling, particularly of weapons, from across the border with
Iran, Burbridge said.
"One of the advantages of our new tactics in Maysan will be that we can
strike at targets, which have been identified by our information gathering
network, at an unexpected time and place," he said Thursday by e-mail.
"These targets might include smugglers or militia who are intent on causing
trouble in the urban areas of Maysan."
Local authorities complained that Thursday's withdrawal had caught them
Dhaffar Jabbar, spokesman for the Maysan governor's office, said local
residents broke into the camp shortly after the British troops pulled out,
breaking doors and windows. He said police managed to disperse them by
shooting into the air, and that Iraqi authorities then surrounded the camp.
The British military had coordinated the camp's handover 24 hours in
advance, Burbridge said.
"It was understood that the governor was likely to use the camp as a police
training camp," he said in an e-mail, adding that Iraqi forces secured the
base after the British soldiers left.
Burbridge said British authorities could not comment on reports of looting
"because by that stage the camp was the property of the Maysan authorities
and Iraqi Forces were in attendance."
Defense officials have said that Britain, which has abut 7,200 troops in
Iraq, could cut its force by half within the year.
Ministry of Defense officials, briefing reporters in London on Tuesday on
condition of anonymity, said British forces could be cut to between 3,000
and 4,000 by mid-2007.
Britain's top military officer, Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup, said
earlier this month that Britain was likely to relinquish control of Basra
province early next year.
Iraqi troops took over in Muthanna, a predominantly Shiite desert province
in southern Iraq, in July.