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3 Jun, 2009 04:44

UK veterans get over ravages of Iraqi war

British troops are due to be fully withdrawn from Iraq by the end of July. There are mixed feelings in the UK about its role in the Iraqi war.

Some say the withdrawal is only a diversion to the relocation of troops to Afghanistan.

Major Phil Packer is the epitome of a British soldier – strong-jawed and forthright. But he knows more than most about the ravages of war. Wounded serving in Iraq last February, doctors said he would never walk again.

Through strength and determination, Major Packer has beaten that prognosis. He recently walked the London Marathon, as part of a series of challenges through which he’s raised 1 million pounds for Help for Heroes, a charity that supports soldiers wounded in recent conflicts.

At the end of July, they should have one less conflict to worry about – it’s a legal requirement that all British troops must leave Iraq by then. On April 30, ahead of schedule, the army lowered the British flag over Basra, and handed over to the U.S. army.

Major Packer is pleased his comrades in arms are finally coming home, and feels important work has been done in Iraq. “I think any kind of peace is clearly fanstastic. I think people, in their separate ways…hope to feel that we have achieved something…but it’s going to take a long time,” he believes.

However, that’s not a view shared by everyone. Politicians and anti-war groups have disputed the validity of the UK’s involvement in Iraq since it began. And Brian Haw, who’s lived on London’s Parliament Square for the last eight years, campaigning for peace, says this is not an event that should be celebrated:

“It's all a game, and we’re taking our troops out of Iraq in order to send them to Afghanistan. Out of the frying pan into the fire.”

It’s a time of mixed emotions on all sides, as coalition forces weigh up the successes and count the costs in the conflict.

Since the invasion in 2003, 179 British soldiers have lost their lives together with more than 3,500 Iraqis. Britain’s Ministry of Defense characterizes the UK’s relationship with the country going forward as a “broad based bi-lateral relationship”, involving cultural, commercial, and educational ties.

While governments work on rebuilding a country, Major Packer concentrates on rebuilding his life, and the lives of others. He’s flying to the US, where he plans to raise more money by pulling himself up a sheer rock face in Yosemite National Park.