Baghdad Britain turned over coalition command of the oil-rich south to the United States on Tuesday in the first step toward withdrawing virtually all British troops from Iraq by July.
The pomp-filled ceremony marked the beginning of the end of an often-troubled British mission. The Iraqis have accused the British of merely standing by while Shiite militias wielded control of the country’s second-largest city of Basra for years.
The British troops will be withdrawn in phases, with combat operations to finish at the end of May and all but about 400 troops withdrawn by the end of July. Those staying behind will focus mainly on training the Iraqi navy to defend oil platforms stationed off the coast, the British Ministry of Defense has said.