For all the "fine words" of Sunday's handover of Basra, the last of the four Iraqi provinces controlled by British forces since the 2003 invasion, there was no hiding the "uncomfortable" truth, says The Independent.
This was victory for neither the British nor the Iraqis. Handing over control was a "flattering way to describe a muddle contested by rival militias".
Nor were the British actually leaving: the 4,500 troops based at Basra airport were "merely moving from a combat to an overwatch' function". Britain has allegedly trained enough Iraqi security personnel to maintain order, but this has "yet to be seriously tested", says Richard Norton-Taylor in The Guardian. Police chief Jalil Khalaf told the newspaper that he had been left to cope with "militia, gangsters, and beheadings of women considered insufficiently Islamic".
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Our troops were dispatched on a "mission as impossible as it was misguided" and they are not to be blamed for the "bleak legacy", says The Independent. The US and its allies have always been in a lose-lose situation, adds the FT.
A forced withdrawal allows the jihadis to claim victory (which is exactly what Al Qaeda's deputy leader, Ayman al-Zawahri, did on Sunday), but staying risks exposing the limits of Western power and presenting them as occupiers. Recently, British troops had been provoking more violence than they quelled.
The handover can only be a good thing, says The Daily Telegraph. Those who opposed the invasion are pleased; those who supported it see withdrawal as the vindication of our troops' work; and locals are "the most satisfied of all".
The only losers are terrorists who claimed to be resisting an 'occupation', who will "find it much harder to justify shooting at... their own democratic government". The situation isn't perfect, but our troops should feel proud as they "shake the sand from their boots".
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