LONDON – Britain has failed to meet its own targets for reducing violent conflict in Iraq, a government performance report said Monday, a day after British troops handed over control of the final Iraqi province under their command.
A Defense Ministry review said Britain's military has not done enough to reduce the impact of violence on civilian lives in the country.
It also offered a cautious assessment of the capacity of Iraq's army and police, despite the fact that Britain handed off responsibilities for security across southern Iraq to local forces on Sunday, with officials insisting they were ready to take on the task.
Defense Minister Bob Ainsworth told the British Broadcasting Corp. on Monday that Britain had handed over to "a confident Iraqi security force who believe they are up to the job."
But the ministry's autumn performance review was less enthusiastic.
"Coalition efforts have contributed to some improvement in the capacity of Iraqi security forces, though the army remains significantly more effective than the police and concerns about sectarian bias and militia influence remain," the report said.
It gave Britain's progress at halting violent conflict and potential sources of conflict the lowest possible rating, classified as "not on course."
"Violence and instability continue to be a problem in some parts of the country, weakening efforts and political reconciliation," said the report, published Monday.
Britain's remaining 4,500 troops will fall to 2,500 from spring, after officials formally agreed Sunday to switch the focus of the UK mission from combat to training and economic recovery.
Officials insisted they believed Iraqi security forces were ready to take on security responsibilities across southern Iraq, where British forces have mainly been based since the U.S.-led 2003 invasion.
"Our aim is to see an Iraq run by Iraqis for all Iraqis," British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said at the handover ceremony Sunday.
The report backed recent claims by five ex-military chiefs that British forces are struggling to cope with the demands of twin operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
It said a target for ensuring there are sufficient forces to meet Britain's defense duties is unlikely to be met. The report identified difficulties in recruiting, training and motivating sufficient numbers of personnel.
Delivering equipment on time and on budget is another problem area with targets only likely to be partially met, the report said.
"This report is further evidence that our armed forces have been operating well above the levels that had been planned," opposition Conservative lawmaker Liam Fox said. "This is having an impact on our personnel and our ability to react to the unexpected."