by RAY FLEMING
BRITAIN officially ended its military mission in Iraq yesterday - six years, one month and one week after joining the US invasion to unseat Saddam Hussein and negate the threat he was said to represent because Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction. There were no such weapons but Saddam Hussein was tracked down, put on trial and executed. Six years, 179 British servicemen killed and unknown numbers severely wounded, and tens of thousands of Iraqis killed and hundreds of thousands of their lives disrupted - it all amounts to a very high price to have paid for a very limited and still uncertain outcome. When the British forces handed over their responsibilities yesterday it was not to the Iraqis but to the US army which still is a necessary presence in Basra and southern Iraq - and, indeed throughout the country. As the British mission came to an end yesterday it was appropriate that those who were part of it - and particularly those whose lives were lost - should be remembered and tribute paid to them. However it is also necessary to use the occasion to recall the duplicity of President Bush and Prime Minister Blair in insisting on this unnecessary war and overseeing the botched follow-up to it. As recent bombings in Baghdad and other parts of the country have shown the country is far from pacified and an early withdrawal of US forces may lead to continuing unrest. All in all, it has been a bad business.