British defence secretary takes tea in Basra cafe on secret tour
British Defence Secretary Des Browne paid a
previously unannounced visit to the Iraqi city of Basra Thursday, chatting with
local people and drinking tea in a roadside cafe, the Ministry of Defence (MoD)
in London said.
During his first visit to the port city since the British Army withdrew to the outskirts of Basra last September, Browne said he found Basra "transformed" in the wake of the recent security crackdown on militias by the Iraqi army.
Browne drove into Basra in a Mastiff armoured vehicle and spent nearly an hour in the city centre, meeting Iraqi security forces, stallholders and residents, the MoD said.
He talked to stallholders, craftsmen and shoppers and spoke to local people while he drank tea in a cafe with Iraqi commander General Mohammed Juwad Huwaidi, said the ministry.
"As I walked through Basra's streets today, chatting to local people, it was clear to everyone that Basra is a transformed city. I felt an enormous sense of pride in what the Iraqi forces have achieved with our help," Browne said, according to a report by Britain's Press Association.
"Mid-afternoon I sat in a Basra street cafe and had a cup of tea with General Mohammed Juwad Huwaidi, commander of the Iraqi forces in Basra. All around us were the signs of a city returning to normality - shopkeepers working away, women walking around wearing head-scarves and children playing on their bikes," he continued.
However, British newspaper reports have said recently that British forces, now stationed at the airport complex outside the city, had recently rejoined foot patrols in central Basra where intense fighting with supporters of the Mahdi Army militia was continuing, dpa reported.