Page last updated at 17:25 GMT, Monday, 23 March 2009

Timeline: UK troops in Basra

As Britain ends its six-year involvement in Basra, here are some key events involving the UK's armed forces in the southern Iraqi city.


1 January: British troops hand over full control to the Iraqis of Basra International Airport, which was used as a UK military base.


17 December: Gordon Brown and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki say UK forces will have "completed their tasks" and are to leave the country by the end of July 2009 - ending months of speculation.


21 October: New Defence Secretary John Hutton meets British troops serving in Basra for the first time since taking over the post.

Defence Secretary John Hutton meets British troops in Basra
John Hutton replaces Des Browne as defence secretary

14 October: Securing an agreement within weeks to let British troops continue in Iraq is "critical", Foreign Office minister Bill Rammell says.

13 October: British troops are no longer needed to maintain security in southern Iraq, the country's Prime Minister Nouri Maliki says.


15 August: The outgoing commander of British forces in Iraq, Maj Gen Barney White-Spunner, indicates that most of the 4,100 UK troops in the country could be withdrawn by summer 2009.

JULY 2008

22 July: Gordon Brown tells MPs he expects a "fundamental change of mission" for British forces in Iraq early in 2009.

MAY 2008

22 May: Defence Secretary Des Browne praises the Iraqi army for its work cracking down on Shia militia during a Basra visit.

APRIL 2008

24 April: British troops in Iraq will be reduced only if "conditions allow", Defence Secretary Des Browne tells MPs.

MARCH 2008

29 March: British forces become directly involved in fighting in Basra, as clashes continue between the Iraqi army and militiamen of the Mehdi Army.

13 March: Defence Secretary Des Browne says the UK commitment to Iraq remains "absolute" after visiting Basra.


Basra is handed back
Basra is handed back to the Iraqis

16 December: Britain formally hands control of Basra province over to the Iraqi authorities.

In a ceremony at Basra Airport, representatives from both countries sign a memorandum of understanding transferring responsibility for security.


8 October: Prime Minister Gordon Brown announces to MPs that the number of UK troops in Iraq will be reduced to 2,500 in the spring.

2 October: Mr Brown visits troops in Iraq amid feverish speculation he is about to call a general election to them 500 more than previously envisaged would be back in the UK for Christmas.


3 September: The last British troops withdraw from Basra Palace in central Basra to an airbase outside the city.

1 and 2 September: Former chief of the general staff, Gen Sir Mike Jackson, describes US post-war policy for Iraq as "intellectually bankrupt". And Maj Gen Tim Cross, the most senior UK officer involved in post-war planning, says US policy was "fatally flawed".


A soldier leaving Basra wearing a printed T-shirt
Some of the departing soldiers printed their own T-shirts

26 August: British forces withdraw from a base in Basra they shared with Iraqi police, the first step in a plan to move all troops out of the city.

22 August: A senior United States military adviser, Gen Jack Keane, expresses "frustration" at British forces in southern Iraq, claiming they are more focused on training Iraqi troops than controlling "deteriorating" security.

MARCH 2007

13 March: British servicemen are prosecuted over the alleged abuse of Iraqi civilians under the International Criminal Court Act 2001 for the first time. One is convicted after pleading guilty to a charge of inhumane treatment and six others are cleared.


18 February: Tony Blair says the operation to allow Iraqis to take the lead in frontline security in Basra has been "completed" and was "successful".


25 December: More than 1,000 UK troops storm the headquarters of an Iraqi police unit to rescue 127 prisoners, dozens of whom are feared killed.


22 November: Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett announces the government is confident it can hand over control of Basra to Iraqi forces "at some point next spring".

MAY 2006

Clockwise from top left: Sarah-Jayne Mulvihill; John Coxen; David Dobson; Paul Collins; Darren Chapman
Five personnel were killed in a helicopter crash in May 2006

31 May: A month-long state of emergency is declared in Basra, after sectarian clashes, anarchy and factional rivalry which has seen more than 100 deaths in the month.

7 May: Iraqi authorities in Basra agree to formally resume co-operation with the British Army, following weeks of boycott after relations soured.

6 May: Five personnel are killed when their Lynx helicopter is shot down in Basra by a surface-to-air missile. They include Flt Lt Sarah Mulvihill, the first British servicewoman to die in action in Iraq.


Two British soldiers
The soldiers were arrested in Basra

19 September: Three soldiers are injured as their armoured vehicles are attacked with firebombs and rockets by a violent crowd during an operation to free two British soldiers arrested in Basra.

They are reported to be undercover SAS officers.

MAY 2004

8 May: Hundreds of Iraqi militiamen loyal to radical Shia cleric Moqtada Sadr clash with troops in Basra. Two Iraqis are killed and three coalition soldiers injured in the violence.


23 August: Three soldiers from the Royal Military Police - Maj Matthew Titchener, Warrant Officer Colin Wall and Cpl Dewi Pritchard - are killed in an ambush in central Basra.

9 August: Troops come under attack from protesters in Basra rioting over fuel and electricity shortages.

JUNE 2003

24 June: Six Royal Military Police soldiers are killed by a mob at a civilian police station in Al Majar al-Kabir, near Basra. An army inquiry in November 2004 finds "no conclusive evidence" the deaths could have been prevented.

MAY 2003

29 May: Tony Blair visits Basra and thanks troops in Iraq for their "great courage" during the war that toppled Saddam Hussein.

2 May: US President George W Bush gives a speech on the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln in which he says major combat operations in Iraq "have ended".

APRIL 2003

British soldiers on patrol with Iraqi police
British soldiers began going on patrol with Iraqi police

13 April: The first joint British military and Iraqi police patrol takes place in Al Faw, south of Basra.

6 April: Much of Iraq's second city is under coalition control after a major assault by thousands of British troops.

MARCH 2003

29 March: UK army officials say breaking the rule of the Baath party in Basra is now the British military's "primary focus".

Bombed-out girls' school in Basra
The fighting left civilian buildings damaged, such as this girls' school

28 March: UK troops attack Iraqi militiamen on the outskirts of Basra after they fire mortars and machine guns at up to 2,000 civilians apparently trying to leave the city.

27 March: UK troops destroy 14 Iraqi tanks in what is said to be the biggest British tank battle since World War II. The British military and Tony Blair deplore an Iraqi broadcast allegedly showing UK prisoners and bodies.

25 March: UK Prime Minister Tony Blair promises the Iraqi people that US-led coalition forces "will not let you down" as UK troops begin firing in support of what they believe is an uprising in Basra.

Challenger tank
The Desert Rats use Challenger tanks among other vehicles

24 March: As American forces press northwards towards Baghdad, British troops in southern Iraq continue to encounter resistance. Elements of the UK's famed Desert Rats - the 7th Armoured Brigade - are forced to withdraw from Basra in the face of unexpectedly fierce Iraqi resistance.

21 March: US and British marines sweep into Basra - Iraq's second-largest city.

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