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Last Updated: Saturday, 25 March 2006, 12:08 GMT
Programme transcript
What follows is a transcript of Panorama: Bringing Our Boys Home? broadcast on Sunday 19 March 2006 at 2215 GMT on BBC One.

This transcript is based on a recording and because of the possibility of miss-hearing and the difficulty, in some cases of identifying individual speakers, the BBC cannot vouch for its accuracy.


JANE CORBIN: This is the story of what has happened in Southern Iraq since the British invaded three years ago. For ten days we've been living with the UK forces during the time when the country teetered on the brink of civil war. Two British soldiers died and we were to discover we'd filmed their last patrol. Has it all been worth the cost in lives, and when will Britain be able to bring its troops home.

A British base in the heart of Basra. Three years ago Panorama filmed with Zulu Company of the Royal Fusiliers as the British Army invaded Southern Iraq. Now the unit is back in the most exposed position in the city. For new soldiers who have joined Zulu it will be a life changing experience.

Sergeant ADRIAN GALLAGHER
Zulu Company Royal Fusiliers
The troops that have come now, I mean you've got to grow up straightaway. You know, you can't be that little pamby mummies boy.. you know.. prior to coming on operation. The lads that I work with now, they're tremendous, you know, they've really grew up in the past four months, you know.. since we came down here to the city. They're excellent soldiers and they just.. you know.. they really grew up really quickly like. They've gone from boys to grown men walking out and fighting terrorism.

CORBIN: February 22nd began like any other morning. But then agitated crowds began gathering outside Zulu's base. The soldiers in the watchtowers tried to gage the Iraqi mood. Hundreds of miles north, one of Shia Islam's holiest shrines, the Golden Dome in Samarra had just been attacked by Sunni insurgents. Civil war threatened as a wave of anger and retaliation began to spread. The people in Basra were obeying their religious leader's calls for massive protests. The crowds built. Soon thousands were streaming past the British base, and reports came in of retaliation. Mosques in the city were being torched. The soldiers equipped themselves not with guns but with riot gear and waited. No one knew how Basra would react to the blood being shed across Iraq, or if they'd turn on the British. Orders were to stay on base. Banners railed against Israel and America but not Britain. The Iraqi police and army kept order on the streets, and after two hours the demonstration passed by peacefully. Life on Zulu's base is always unpredictable, often tense. The atmosphere is very different from three years ago.

It's been a long occupation. What sort of atmosphere do you detect?

Major JOHN STOTT
Command
Zulu Company Royal Fusiliers
It is 50/50. Half of the population will tell you that we must remain because if we go, what's going to come next? Who will fill that vacuum? Are the police ready? You know, and they are fearful of us going, this is the irony. The other half maybe will say: "We really appreciate what you've done, thank you for that but.. you know.. now is the time for you to go."

CORBIN: A group of Zulu soldiers watched the film Panorama made with them three years ago. Back then they'd entered Basra to a warm welcome.

Sergeant Gallagher, you were here in 2003, you came back in 2004 and here you are again. What changes have you seen over that time?

GALLAGHER: Lots of differences. There's a bit more tension I think there is now. Obviously because you know.. they are becoming democratic and they are having their say in their own country.

CORBIN: Lieutenant Alloway, you've had direct experience of the hostility out there in Basra now to British forces. Tell us about the incident with the IED. Gallagher you were fairly seriously injured.

Lieutenant DAVID ALLOWAY
Zulu Company Royal Fusiliers
It wasn't that seriously. It's all been blown out of all proportion. I got a little bit of shrapnel hit me in the head. Obviously the warrior is very well armoured and the vehicle did very well.

CORBIN: Here you are stuck right in the middle of the city. You're pretty exposed, aren't you, as a unit. Are you concerned about that given the way that the feeling is out there on the streets.

GALLAGHER: No, I mean because generally, as a whole, we are generally liked by the general public when we go out on patrol, it's just the minority that throw stones. The minority that.. you know.. want to harm you.

CORBIN: But on the day that followed the attack on the Samarra shrine, Iraqis turned not on the coalition but on each other. More than 100 died in revenge attacks as the country slid towards chaos.

JANE CORBIN
I've been in Iraq lots of times. I've been here seven or eight times even in the last three years since the wear, and to me this whole thing feels very dangerous, you know.. with a risk of sliding out of control. It's what basically everybody has long feared, this sectarian problem of Shia and Sunni clashing, Shia answering violence with violence - and if you get that happening, and that's what we've seen in the last 24 hours - then there really is a threat that this whole thing could boil over.

We flew into Baghdad's green zone to meet Iraq's embattled leader. The helicopter threw out flares, banking sharply to avoid what could have been hostile fire. The coalition had helped bring democracy, but Iraqi politicians were still struggling to form a new government. The violence beyond the Prime Minister's isolated residence underscored his continued reliance on foreign forces.

IBRAHIM JAAFARI
Iraqi Prime Minister
We are facing terrorism with implications at home and in the region. We were taken by surprise by the acts of sabotage, like the one that occurred in Samarra, and that could demand additional efforts on our part. Therefore we must strengthen our resolve and work hard to make our security forces ready as soon as possible, but not at the expense of Iraq security. So if the country's security makes it necessary that multinational forces stay longer, we will grant them this time and not ask them to leave until we can handle the situation ourselves.

Dr JOHN REID MP
Defence Secretary
We are there to help them build their democracy and the security forces in order to protect it. As they increasingly do that we will go. We have no long term imperialistic missions, we want to be there as long as we are needed and not a day longer. And the success of the Iraqis in building their democracy and security, that strategy for success is also the exit strategy because that is what will allow us to bring our boys home.

CORBIN: There are 8,000 British men and women now serving in Iraq. The four southern provinces controlled by Britain cover an area the size of England and Wales. Home to a fifth of the country's population. The Desert Rats are currently deployed here. They took Basra three years, little thinking they'd be here today.

BRIG. MARRIOTT: None of us, I don't think, saw quite the consequences of us coming in. I think it would be very unfair to say that anyone predicted us still being here in 2006.

CORBIN: And why do you think you are still here?

Brigadier PATRICK MARRIOTT
Commander, 7th Armoured Brigade
Well I think we've encountered all sorts of different problems. I think, and I can speak personally, we underestimated the complexities of the problem that faced us. I think we underestimated the evil of the regime that we removed, and the damage that that had done to the Iraqi people, 30 years of real evil had transformed southern Iraq and made it much more difficult for us to give them democracy, to give them their full freedom because they don't quite know how to use it yet.

CORBIN: The British exit strategy is based on first drawing down troops in two of the provinces under British control, below us is one of them, Meysan. We're flying into an airfield that often comes under fire. More British troops have died in Meysan than anywhere else in Iraq. Challenger tanks are sent to meet the plane. It's cargo bay is opening as we touch down. This area near the Iranian border has become a battleground for rival Shia militias. British forces try to hold the ring, often bearing the brunt of the violence. What happens in Meysan is a test of the American led Coalition's ability to hand over to Iraqis and extricate its troops.

Could Britain leave before the Americans, the partners in the coalition?

Dr JOHN REID MP
Defence Secretary
It is certainly true that there is no even circumstance throughout the country. Some areas are harder than others and the Americans, to be fair to them, have got some pretty difficult areas as well. I believe there will be a generally synchronised handover but it will not occur in every area of the country at the same time.

CORBIN: Alamara is the main town in this fiercely independent tribal area which Saddam never tamed. The people liberated themselves three years ago, and occupiers are not welcome.

Oh yes, oh yes, you're gonna get it.

CORBIN: It was here British troops were filmed beating Iraqis two years ago after a riot. These pictures recently revealed inflamed opinion. The Royal Scots Dragoon Guard now spearhead British forces in Alamara. Recently they've been keeping a new profile, allowing the new provincial council and the Iraqi police and army to handle things in town. It's the first step towards a full withdrawal. The top brass is flying in to give impetus to the transfer of power after a tense and violent week in Alamara. The Provincial Council has been threatening to withdraw cooperation but it looks like political posturing. The head of British forces in Iraq is here to back up his local commander by adding some clout. To General Cooper's the Governor, the Provincial Council and the Police Chief all turn up and the discussions are constructive. The meeting is a success, things seem to be improving and may soon be on a more even keel, allowing the British to move forward with transferring responsibility for security to the Iraqis. But a leading tribal figure in the province knows how fragile the situation really is. There's a lack of strong political and security leadership.

ABDUL KARIM AL-MUHAMMADAWI
Tribal leader, Marsh Arabs
There are assassinations because of the lack of control in the town. There is security chaos. So when anyone asks the foreign forces to leave Meysan you have to show to whom the British or multinational force commander should hand the vital security portfolio over to. The police? The army? The armed political militias in the street? The provincial council or the governor? This is a measure of the problem that people in Meysan who are raising these questions should address first. There is no discipline and no internal force or Iraqi army leadership in control at this point.

CORBIN: Those words rang true next morning as we travelled into the centre of town in a British Army convoy accompanied by local police. A powerful militia leader had been calling for the withdrawal of coalition forces. The Provincial Council had warned us they couldn't even guarantee our safety in the town hall if we went to interview them there as we had planned.

We stopped at the joint operation centre where Iraqi police and army units coordinate with each other and with British forces. A small team from the Parachute Regiment met us. Captain Richard Holmes and his unit were regulars here. Their job - to liaise with the police.

This is the city here, you're currently located inside police headquarters which is this building here. Generally, this area we are in here is an extremely sort of quiet and well secured area.

CORBIN: And which are the hot spots?

Captain RICHARD HOLMES
2nd Battalion
Parachute Regiment
It's difficult to say. At the moment Alamara has calmed down considerably. There's always areas which will be more volatile than others and that's normally due to the presence of a small minority.

CORBIN: We're just about to leave the police building and go about 150 yards down the road with the Paras on a foot patrol. It will give us a chance to test the temperature of the town right now.

What we couldn't have known was that in half an hour Captain Holmes would be killed on the streets of Alamara, and so would one of his squad, Private Lee Ellis. Their families have agreed we can show these pictures of their last patrol. It was a normal weekday morning for Alamara.

It seems calm enough.

HOLMES: Yeah, I mean, as I say, we've been here for four months and this area especially people have always been very welcoming, they've very friendly.

CORBIN: We were taken to the civil defence building where Captain Holmes used the Arabic he'd learnt to help him talk to local people. The Captain showed me how efforts to train the local police were now resulting in the seizure of weapons which threatened British forces and the Iraqi people.

So what's this then?

HOLMES: Okay, well what you have here, you have a 107 katushka. Essentially these are the rockets that they've been firing at a Camp Abu Naji.

CORBIN: So these are the rockets that have been coming over into the British camp.

Been set up to fly towards our camp. The IPS, the police, put a cordon in. A civil defence firm moved in to disarm the weapon and brought it back for our retrieval here.

CORBIN: And what's this at the end here?

HOLMES: At the end is an anti-tank mine, the countryside is littered with mines which is a real problem. What people can do is they can take these away and turn them quite easily into an improvised explosive device, an IEV which they can then use to destabilise┐ destabilise areas further.

CORBIN: And obviously attack Coalition troops as well as create mayhem in the community.

HOLMES: It could be used to attack Coalition troops, but we've found that it hasn't been directed towards us, but what is great is that we're not having to get involved here because the Iraqi people are doing it for themselves.

CORBIN: We moved back onto the street. The atmosphere seemed more tense. Captain Holmes and his unit quickly steered us to the patrol vehicles. There was no panic, just a quiet sense of urgency.

We've just walked about 150 yards through town, clearly our military escort is worried. We're not able to stay here much longer. It's hard to get a real feel of the place. It feels okay but obviously Alamara is a pretty wild place and the military just aren't taking any chances so we're heading off now. The convoy headed out of town. The Paras returned to base by a different route, along a parallel street. Extra armour in the shape of Warriors was waiting for us on the outskirts of town. Nobody wanted to remain here longer than was necessary. As we approached the base a helicopter was heading fast for Alamara. More Warriors were being scrambled and tanks. It was clear something had happened. A roadside bomb had ripped into a British convoy as it returned to base. As soldiers went to recover the casualties they were attacked by locals with stones and petrol bombs. Captain Richard Holmes and Private Lee Ellis had been killed after they left us. Their commanding officer spoke to me just minutes after he'd learnt of their deaths.

Lieutenant Colonel BEN EDWARDS
Commanding Officer
Royal Scots Dragoon Guards
The full details of what has happened are coming in as we speak into the operations room not 50 yards from here. But what is sure is that this will not put us off our pace, and I will now be spending most of the next week ensuring that everybody down the town knows that.

CORBIN: What about the knock on here in the camp amongst your own men? Two casualties, as we understand, obviously a devastating blow for the unit.

EDWARDS: It will be. It's not the first time we've been there. It may sound slightly harsh and heartless to say it but everybody came here prepared for that. They all know how they'll deal with it. They will have to have a quiet moment to themselves, we will give them the space to do that. But they will be equally determined that this will not throw us off our pace.

CORBIN: So often the British military have to accept their casualties without retaliating against the killers. There is simply too much at stake.

Major General JOHN COOPER
Commanding Officer
Multi-National Forces, South-Eastern Iraq
Captain Richard Holmes and Private Lee Ellis were sadly killed, that is a tragedy. But the fact of the matter is, that will not knock us off track. Given the preponderance of weapons, and given this maturing democracy and this trait that people will tend to look for a violent solution if they can't find a democratic one or if they don't get their own way, that to a degree will continue in Iraq for the foreseeable future. That does not mean that the situation is untenable.

Dr JOHN REID MP
Defence Secretary
Every single death is a tragedy and I feel that. I am the person who has to write to every next of kin for every British soldier who dies, so I know better than most how tragic a single death is, and every one of those lives is hugely valuable to its family and to this country.

CORBIN: So who is killing British forces here in Southern Iraq? As dusk falls British bases in Basra find themselves targeted by mortars. We came under attack and had to seek cover two out of four nights in this camp. It seems extraordinary. We're three years now after the invasion of Iraq and the taking of Basra by British forces, and yet still, still there is attack coming onto the British, but this time of course from the Shia population. Someone, insurgents, whoever they are, militias who don't want the British here. Luckily for everyone the mortars rarely score a hit. It's more about harassing British forces.

People are now going from tent to tent with torches, checking that everybody in each tent is okay and obviously looking to see if there have been other mortars that have landed in this vicinity and we've been told to stay where we are until we hear the all clear.

The South isn't a battle ground between Sunni and Shia as it is in so much of Iraq. The enemy here is more difficult to define.

Brigadier PATRICK MARRIOTT
Commander, 7th Armoured Brigade
While they've direct attacks against the British? It could be a lot of different reasons. It could be that we have arrested a member of political militia and that's reduced their power and they want to deal with it for that reason. It could be that they want us out. It could be that orders from afar have come, do something, just poke them in their eye. There are so many different reasons. I can't give you a straight black and white answer.

CORBIN: But is there a danger now that the British risk becoming part of the problem? They're caught in the middle of these power struggles and they may continue if there is a focus, if there is a British presence here for them to direct their anger and their violence against.

MARRIOTT: There's always a risk that you become part of the problem until you understand that problem.

CORBIN: The problem is often the militias. Once resistance fighters against Saddam, many now form the armed wing of political parties. These militias, a feature of the new democracy, fostered by the coalition, have been responsible for torture and killings, and they've been implicated in the deaths of many British soldiers. But because they have to work with their political masters, the British often have to stomach such militia killings without retaliating.

Councillor Dr HAMID AL DHALIMY
Basra Provincial Council
Some political parties do have military wings, however, to what extent can we say that these military wings are attacking foreign forces in Iraq, it may not be the military wings that are carrying out these attacks. Maybe others are committing these types of acts and blaming it on the military wings, or the militias, or what they call the militias, in order to create tension in a relationship between the foreign forces in Iraq, and the militias, so that there is a big clash.

CORBIN: The killing of Richard Holmes and Lee Ellis in Alamara is believed to have been carried out by a splinter group of the militia now involved in politics.

Why are we dealing with people with links to militias when often they are killing our soldiers and yet we sit down and we talk to them and we see them as part of the solution?

REID: Well, as we found out for many years, and I think our imperial experience, whatever the downside of it, it has taught us that we have to deal with the real world, with people as they are, and not wish for some world that can be somehow imposed upon people, irrespective of tribunal connections or the history or the legacy of the country. So despite all the blemishes, we have to deal with the reality as it is today and it is a far better reality than it was only a few years ago.

CORBIN: But British patience has its limits. On September 19th last year these pictures highlighted the extent of militia infiltration in Basra's police force. Two UK Special Forces soldiers were captured by alleged rogue elements of the police and held prisoner. Tanks smashed their way into the station and the soldiers were freed. The British have since detained policemen they say presented an immediate or terrorist threat. The provincial government retaliated by ending all cooperation with UK forces.

Councillor Dr HAMID AL DHALIMY
Basra Provincial Council
Not every detainee is a criminal. They may not have done anything. So the British should have investigated and presented the evidence so that people could be aware of it. Why was everything shrouded in secrecy? The logical way here is either to convict them if they are guilty of something, or if there is no evidence against them, then they should set them free. So the ball is in the British court.

CORBIN: Zulu Company sets out on a night time foot patrol through Basra to visit one of the eight police stations on their patch. It's eerie on the streets. Just two days after the Samara shrine attack and the bloodshed in Iraq continues. Most people in Basra stay indoors, observing a period of mourning. We were nervous, but when we did meet people the reaction wasn't what we'd feared.

STOTT: A British, yeah.

FRIENDLY LOCALS: A British?

STOTT: British, of course.

CORBIN: Major Stott is hoping to persuade local police to join his soldiers on patrol, and important part of the mentoring that is now the fusiliers main purpose in the city.

STOTT: What we're passing up here on the right is the big C, the governor's main building where he works from.

CORBIN: This one up here.

STOTT: That's up here on the right.

CORBIN: The provincial governor?

STOTT: Yes.

CORBIN: But the Council's boycott of the British threatens the good relations he's built with local policemen. The reception he receives at the police station will tell him how easily bridges can be mended.

STOTT: Good evening. It's very quiet.

CORBIN: The British team are invited up to see the Iraqi police commander. So far - so good.

STOTT: Salaam, salaam. Nice to meet you. [shaking hands]

If possible can he give us four, five men to come out on a joint patrol, whatever he can do, you know, whatever manpower he can give us.

TRANSLATOR: How many he can give you?

STOTT: Four men, five men?

[Translated]

STOTT: Is that okay? Excellent.

CORBIN: It looks like the council's official policy of non-cooperation isn't going to hold on the ground.

Major how did it go in there, what was your reaction to what you heard?

STOTT: I was actually pleasantly surprised. I mean this particular station is a friendly station anyway, but considering the situation we're in, they were even more ready to patrol with us and even more delighted to see us than I could possibly imagine.

CORBIN: But within minutes everything changes.

STOTT: [To soldier] Who gave you this information?

SOLDIER: It was one of his officers.

STOTT: Okay, which one?

SOLDIER: He's gone back inside.

STOTT: Okay, just pass my compliments and tell him we'll be on our way. Okay.

CORBIN: So what's happened now?

STOTT: Yeah, I mean within two minutes of just talking to you about how pleased I was, unfortunately it's now slightly sad, the young Major here, the Station Commander has received a phone call saying that unfortunately he can't now come out with us having a group.

CORBIN: So he's had orders from on high.

STOTT: Yes, he's had orders but you know.. which really reflects what I said to you earlier about the fact that at the grass roots level, at the coal face, you've seen for yourself that these guys desperately want to keep the relationship with us.

CORBIN: Democratically elected Iraqi leaders are now asserting their right to rule here three years on. Basra council has not yet re-established relations formally with the British, though there are discreet contacts. One key question continues to hang over this city. Can the police protect everyone in Basra. Iraqis still lack confidence in a force notoriously brutal and corrupt in Saddam's time, which today is still inclined to serve different powerful tribes, not the whole community.

CORBIN: The British can only leave Basra if they succeed in helping the Iraqis build a clean and competent police force strong enough to stand up to the militias.

INSTRUCTOR: Okay, the scenario is that you've stopped a vehicle at a checkpoint, the drivers is┐.

CORBIN: That's why British officers at Basra's police academy are stepping up the pace of training. 20,000 recruits so far, another 24,000 still to go. They're teaching them basic forensic techniques to try and foster a new mindset.

INSTRUCTOR: He's felt something there now and he knows that it's a weapon. Good. So again we place it into the evidence bag┐.

IAN ELDER: Perhaps when I see them training the tribal issue is the hardest, believe it, much harder than insurgency.

CORBIN: You mean they owe loyalty to a tribe, not to a whole group of people, that they pick and choose, their loyalties are divided, that sort of thing.

Superintendent IAN ELDER
Director, Basra Police Academy
That's right, and there are many, many instances where the police will not arrest somebody because that person is of the other tribe and that policeman will himself be threatened after the incident. So rather than get involved they walk away, and this is somewhere where the rule of law has got to take a greater effect.

CORBIN: The British have learnt some lessons. Valuable time was lost early on and they tried to model the police too closely on the British bobby. A more paramilitary force is now taking shape. The Iraqis are being mentored by former policemen from Northern Ireland who have their own experience of sectarian conflict, but there's still a problem with poor quality recruits, corruption and militia infiltration.

Colonel ABDULLAH ABDEL BAKI
Dean, Basra Police Academy
Here in Basra there are corrupt people in the police. Our new plan is to change these people by laying down a clearly defined and fundamental blueprint to change these bad people.

ELDER: There's a long way to go. We never ever did think that we were going to change this thing in the time that we're here. My personal belief, it's going to take 30 years to make some changes. It will be a generational thing by the time these changes are taken into place.

CORBIN: Britain will only be able to withdraw its troops when Iraqis Security Forces are able to protect their own country. Nearly a quarter of a million of them have been trained through coalition efforts so far, but the most vulnerable place 15 miles off shore in the Arabian Gulf still relies largely in foreign forces. When the Coalition invaded Iraq there was widespread suspicion that the real motive was oil. The oil fields on shore were quickly handed back to Iraqis to operate and protect. But at sea a British naval commodore heads a multinational taskforce still protecting Iraq's most valuable asset. It's two oil platforms. With pipelines in the North currently shut down because of attacks by insurgents, over 90% of Iraq's revenues come from the oil that flows through these off-shore pumping stations where tankers from around the globe queue to fill up. These platforms are critical not only to Iraq but to the world's economy.

Commodore BRUCE WILLIAMS
Commander, Multi-National Naval Force
Northern Arabian Gulf
Well I suppose in strategic terms, defence of these oil platforms represents if it was hit, Iraq would have its economy hobbled, the West would be humiliated and of course you'd see a vast increase in oil prices. So economically it's very strategically important.

CORBIN: Terrorists have already targeted Iraq's oil exports. Two years ago a small Al-Qaeda boat packed with explosives got dangerously close to the platforms. Three American sailors who intercepted it were killed.

WILLIAMS: So over here and around us is effectively a ring of steel, whether it's an American ship or it's an Iraqi patrol boat, whether it's a US coastguard, whether it's a Royal Naval warship, to gradually warn off and ensure that anyone who is a would be terrorist can't get close to affect the platforms. And if they are not persuaded by that steel, as they get closer they will be met eventually by the lethal fire delivered by the Iraqi marines here on the platform.

CORBIN: A new detachment of Iraqi marines trained by the coalition have now taken over responsibility for defending the platforms. And the fledgling Iraqi Navy now patrols these waters. It's important politically for them to be seen to be securing their own economic assets. But the real muscle is still provided by coalition battleships, as we found out aboard a British frigate. HMS Montrose went on action stations within minutes of our arrival. Three daus, fishing boats, were approaching the exclusion zone around the platforms and the British prepared to fire. Al-Qaeda used just such a fishing boat to mount its bombing raid. Attracted by rich shoals of fish around the platforms some local boats are prepared to take a risk. At the last minute the daus veer away.

It's clear that the British and Coalition forces can't leave these vital economic installations to the care of the Iraqis alone until they're really ready to operate.

WILLIAMS: We're not going to cut and run. We are going to be here to ensure that we hand over in good order, that these people have a future, not a wasteland.

CORBIN: And can you see that in months or will it take years?

WILLIAMS: If all things went well, it will be sooner rather than later.

CORBIN: In truth it will be years before Iraq's navy is capable of defending the nation's most valuable asset. On land the army and police may hold the ring on security far sooner.

It's been a really interesting and provocative trip because although we learnt some things that we expected when we came here, we also learnt some surprising things which is that basically the British are still held in good regard by most people here in the South of Iraq. They talk about the understanding the British have shown and the softly, softly approach, so that was unexpected. On a more personal level, I mean I've seen the military at first hand, I've seen their successes but I've also seen the tragedies that have befallen them, the death of two soldiers that we had met just minutes before they were killed by a roadside bomb. In Alamara British troops are increasingly pulling back into base outside town, while encouraging Iraqi security forces to take up the reins. The deaths the British have suffered in their ranks wont stop that process of drawing down. The government has just announced there will be 800 less troops in Iraq by May. This week, as his two soldiers were buried, Colonel Edwards, their commanding officer, sent us this personal tribute to them.

Lieutenant Colonel BEN EDWARDS
Commanding Officer
Royal Scots Dragoon Guards
I want to take this opportunity to say a couple of words about Captain Richard Holmes and Private Lee Ellis. We've been through the shock and of course the sadness of losing good friends and indeed good soldiers, and that was widely recognised and I have a letter here from the staff in of the joint operation centre, some of which I'm going to just read you.

"We share with you your sorrow and sadness for this tragedy which is so painful because we've lost a dear friend who is close to our heart and souls. At the same time we condemn this criminal act. We pray to God to have mercy and forgiveness on your soldiers and may God give their families patience and comfort."

EDWARDS: And that says a lot because that sums up the best of British soldiers doing the best of their work in very difficult circumstances.

CORBIN: The war and its aftermath have claimed 103 British military lives, over 2,000 Coalition dead, and tens of thousands of Iraqis. Iraq still hesitates on the brink of civil war, it's own forces not yet ready, it's government not decided. It's still far from certain when Britain will be able to bring all its boys home.


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