MADELEINE BRAND, host:
From the studios of NPR West, this is DAY TO DAY. I'm Madeleine Brand.
JAMES HATTORI, host:
And I'm James Hattori.
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BRAND: In Iraq today, three car bombs killed more than two dozen people and injured scores more in the city of Omara. Omara is in southern Iraq; it's a Shiite-dominated area that was controlled by British forces from much of the war. The British turned over the province to Iraqis earlier this year. This coming Sunday, the British will turn over the neighboring Basra province to Iraqis.
Lieutenant Colonel Nick Goulding from the British military in Baghdad joins us now to talk about that turnover.
Welcome to the program.
Lieutenant Colonel NICK GOULDING (U.K. Army): Good evening.
BRAND: Lieutenant Colonel, your forces are scheduled to leave this weekend. It's the last area under your control. What will happen next?
Lt. Col. GOULDING: Well, we're not leaving; we're handing over provincial Iraqi control. The British troops will remain there, but we will move to an overwatch role where we will only intervene directly in the security if requested by the Iraqi Security Forces. And of course we don't expect that to happen because we believed that the Iraqi security forces have now got to a level where they can handle the security on their own.
BRAND: But we saw what happened today in the neighboring province - in the Maysan province - which you vacated last April.
Lt. Col. GOULDING: Well, as you said, that has been under provincial Iraqi control for over a year now, and for the most of that time it has been fairly peaceful. This bomb - particularly this type of large-scale bomb - is very out of character for that area. And although it's a tragic instance - and I should say that our concerns are with the families of the people who were killed and injured in that incident - one bomb on its own doesn't change the security situation. And we remain confident that the Iraqi Security Forces are handling not only that incident well - and we believed they have handled that well, in the aftermath - but also that they are fully capable of doing so in Basra as well.
BRAND: And what makes you so confident that they're fully capable of doing that?
Lt. Col. GOULDING: Because of the assessments that we've carried out as they've been through their training, and they have the evidence from the three provinces that we passed to provincial Iraqi control already, where the Iraqi Security Forces have been able to maintain a good level of security over the last few months and indeed over a year in the case of Maysan.
BRAND: So how many British forces are currently in Iraq?
Lt. Col. GOULDING: In southeast Iraq there are currently 5,000, and there are a few hundred more outside (unintelligible) southeast area.
BRAND: And there is a plan for a drawdown.
Lt. Col. GOULDING: If, as we expect, the Iraqi forces are able to exercise effective control in Basra, then yes, we will start to pull forces back. Initially, 500 logistic troops will move back later this month, but then in January/February we would expect to pullout another 500 or so. And if conditions remain so, then up to another 1,500 out by late spring. But as I say, those decisions will be dependent on conditions at the time and based on confidence that the Iraqi Security Forces are maintaining - as we expect they will - adequate security.
BRAND: Now, Basra is the major oil-producing area in Iraq. How are you planning to protect the oil reserves during this transition?
Lt. Col. GOULDING: The principal responsibility will be with the Iraqi security forces - of course where they request our assistance, we'll continue to provide it. But we are confident that they Iraqi security forces have demonstrated that they have the capacity and the capabilities to insure the security of the whole of the province, and that includes the strategic oil installations.
BRAND: Lieutenant Colonel Nick Goulding from the British military joining us from Baghdad. Thanks for joining us.
Lt. Col. GOULDING: It's a pleasure.
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