Basra handover completed
Basra handover between UK and Iraqi forces formally completed
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Security responsibilities in Basra province have been formally handed from UK troops to the Iraqi army.
The handover comes a week after Gordon Brown visited the province to announce that British forces would be standing down imminently.
Major General Graham Binns, the commander of UK troops in Basra, foreign secretary David Miliband and Iraqi national security adviser Dr Mowaffak al-Rubaie were present as Basra was officially signed over to Iraqi control.
Basra is the ninth out of Iraq's 18 provinces to be returned to the control of the country's own army and the last of four provinces UK troops were initially responsible for.
About 4,500 British soldiers remain deployed in Basra, although that number is set to halve over the coming months.
In the weeks following the US-led invasion of March 2003 and the toppling of Saddam Hussein, the UK military presence in Basra was ten times that number.
A date for the army's final withdrawal from Iraq has not been set, with ministers stressing that British troops will remain in Basra in an 'over-watch' role to train Iraqi soldiers.
"For four and a half years we have been saying that we wanted Iraqis to take control of their own security," Mr Miliband said from Basra.
"And this is a very important step in that direction."
Three months ago UK troops withdrew from their base in Basra Palace their last in the city which saw their presence reduced to virtually nothing.
Violence in the city has fallen since the exit from Basra Palace, with Shia militias starved off their familiar British targets.
The bloodshed witnessed in Basra, Iraq's most oil-rich province, was a far-cry from the heroes' welcome initially given to UK troops after Saddam Hussein, whose reign was punctuated with the persecution of Shia Muslims, was toppled.
Click here for a summary of the security situation in Iraq.