British Major General Andy Salmon turned over his command to US Major General Michael Oates at a transition ceremony. They shook hands and then shared an unscripted embrace.
The ceremony marked the end of the Multi-National Division South East as well as the handover of power. Now the entire southern region is under one division headed by General Oates of the 10 Mountain. General Odierno, General Austin and General Allen attended the ceremony along with Iraqi Major General Hawedi Mohamed and 250 guests. The ceremony took place at Basra’s airport where the Americans landed for the event, and the Brits took off right after.
The Brit’s flew in a marching band of the highest caliber. They played American and British traditional marches under the warm Basra sun. All of the speakers stressed what the British had accomplished by bringing stability to Basra, even though it is still far from safe. Compared to 2003, Basra is much safer; however, while General Salmon was having meeting his last meeting with his entire unit when an air raid siren went off and everyone had to hit the deck. Although it was a false alarm the base was hit twice in the last couple weeks with one fatality. Those involved in the ceremony spoke about Basra’s newfound peace but also acknowledged there is more work to be done. General Oates made light of the differences and some animosity that has been in the air pre-transition by saying “Although we not do agree when it comes to football, we agree on most of the rest” and General Austin talked of the bond that comes from spilling blood together for a common good. Chief Air Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup spoke about the British sacrifice, the number of British dead (179) and money spent- figures that pale in comparison to the cost in American and Iraqi lives. General Austin thanked General Salmon by saying the fact that the British are leaving is a sure sign of their success.” Thanks for being part of the core team”.
The Americans have no qualms about taking over and they are changing most everything overnight. Signs on the base are being replaced, as well as the menus in the mess halls–less curry and more fried food. Some British troops will remain on the base until the end of July but the power is now in American hands.Talk of the British commitment in building Iraq’s confidence and security were over shadowed by the fact American forces are bringing in troops to fill the void on the base. The American troops are yet to say, “Mission accomplished,” as Andy Salmon said in regard to his troops’ role. The British did complete their stated objectives. The Americans are hunkering down in Basra for the long haul.