AFTER six years and 136 deaths from enemy fire, Britain is close to quitting Basra and Iraq. The deadline for the 4'100 remaining troops is May 31 but most of the heavy equipment has already been shipped to the UK. An effort has already begun to show the British presence in Basra in the best possible light. In an interview at the weekend the senior British commander there, Lt General John Cooper said: “We will be leaving behind a city that is in far better nick than it was when we arrived in 2003. Our losses will be vindicated.” Although no one will question the brazenness and dedication of individual British soldiers who served in Basra and southern Iraq, it does no service to the memory of those who lost their lives or to the assessment of the overall effectiveness of the British presence to pretend that it achieved more than it did. Most qualified observers think that after the immediate post-invasion period the British performance has not been impressive. The nadir came in the summer of 2007 when British forces withdrew from Basra itself to the nearby airport and in doing so gave control to the Shia militias in the city. This was the reverse of what the US and Iraqi government wanted and within a few months the Iraqi army, backed by US air power, mounted a successful operation to retake the city. The British remained at the airport. That embarrassment concluded an involvement in Iraq that should never have started.