After 5 Years, Brits Hand Over Basra to Iraqis

Strategic, unstable region to test strength of Baghdad government
By Jane Yager,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 16, 2007 6:16 AM CST
Iraqi army soldiers watch as a British military helicopter descends during the opening ceremony of a new Iraqi army division headquarters in Basra, Iraq, Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2007. British Defense Secretary...   (Associated Press)
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(Newser) – Ending five years of British control in southern Iraq, the UK today handed over authority for the wealthy, populous Basra region to the Iraqi government. Residents greeted the handover with jubilation, but the responsibility for Basra—strategically located, an oil export hub and home of Iraq's only port—will prove a tough test for the Baghdad government, Reuters reports.

Though both locals and British leaders expressed confidence in the Iraqi police and troops in the region, Basra has been troubled recently by bloody factional skirmishes between rival Shiite groups, criminals and smugglers. British forces attempted to pull out of the southern provinces last year, but were unable to do so because deadly attacks escalated as they withdrew.