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British Troops Seek to Restore Order to Basra Soon - 2003-04-15

Colonel Chris Vernon, spokesman for British forces in Iraq, says British troops are increasing their presene in Basra to help restore order.

"We've increased our foot patrol on the ground in Basra. We have a lot of experience in doing this, in Northern Ireland, for example," he said in an interview. "The purpose of this is to return to a greater degree of law and order, to set the conditions for humanitarian organizations to come in and return a degree of normality to the town of Basra."

The spokesman said he does not expect all British troops to be involved. At least one brigade will still be needed in Basra to mop up remnants of Saddam loyalists.

"We still have 16 air assault brigades, for example, up around to the Ramallah oilfields, pushing up to the Euphrates," he said. "A lot of them will be the moment the 7th armored brigade and three commander brigade are involved in and around Basra."

Colonel Vernon said that in some areas in Southern Iraq, British military police have already asked locals to help patrol the streets as they try to encourage locals to take part in maintaining order. He said the military police listen for feedback and suggestions from humanitarian aid organizations and the local population.

"They will form a joint coalition in and around that area. This is all a part of the process of trying to allow local people themselves a degree of self-determination to assume responsibility for their town and country," he said.

The international aid organization, known as the Red Crescent, is playing a major role in delivering humanitarian relief to southern Iraq. Michael Whisley, the Red Crescent's advisor for Basra, said conditions are rapidly improving. "...emergency needs that have been expressed from the military back to the humanitarian community, while we are in this transition phase from conflict into post-combat in a secure operating environment. For example, there are times that we forward medicines, WHO medical kit capacity, through the UK Civil Affairs folks into southern town of Uum Qasr and into Basra, Saffwan...medical materials, medicines, through the U.S. civil affairs folks into the Nasariyah area," he said. "So, I'm not sure that it is valid just to read the tickers on the news channels and say that means that no supplies can be brought northward."

Colonel Vernon said the looting makes it impossible for humanitarian aid organizations to deliver food, potable water and medicines to those in need. But he added that by changing from soldiers to peacekeepers, British forces in Basra will suppress the lawless looting that plagues the city.

"We have to set the conditions in terms of security for aid organizations to operate," he said. "It is only they who can make that assessment of when they feel it is efficiently benign to come in. We would encourage them to do so, but that is their call, not ours."