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Southern Iraqis Enjoy Relative Stability Under British Coalition Forces, but Security Problems Persist


In Iraq, thousands of people continue to die every month in attacks by terrorists, insurgents and ordinary criminals. Military officials say most of the violence is occurring in four provinces and Iraq's 14 other provinces are relatively peaceful. One such province is Basra, in the south. Its population suffered a great deal under Saddam Hussein but now is enjoying unprecedented freedom. However, security problems persist in Basra, despite the presence of 8,000 mostly British troops.

It is late morning in Basra, southern Iraq, and British coalition soldiers are visiting Iraqis in the center of town.

Corporal Chilvers, who is on his second tour here, says communicating with the Iraqis depends on how one approaches them.

"Just a general smile, the soft posture and being polite," said Corporal Chilvers. "If you show them and treat them on an equal level, you get a lot more in return from the people and you do actually get a lot more information out of them."

Basra is relatively calm these days. It averages several-dozen attacks per month, far less than in Baghdad or central Iraq. But recent incidents have raised anxieties and put the British on higher alert.

Iraqis on the street say the British are respectful and polite, unlike some other coalition troops, but for unemployed Nasir Ali, they are still an occupation force.

"I look at the British forces as occupying forces and this is the same vision of all people in Basra," he said. "But their dealing is not like the Americans in Baghdad. They deal in a respectable way."

Hussein Ahmed Ali, from the Sunni Arab group that forms the backbone of the insurgency, is bitter.

"The British forces, they came here to occupy our state and to steal our oil and to eat our blood," he said.

The commander of the British forces in Basra, Lt. Colonel James Hopkinson, says Iraqi forces in the south are gradually taking over security operations. He says that one day the British will leave, though he cannot say when.

"This is not a timetable," said Colonel Hopkinson. "This is conditions-based. As and when the Iraqis feel ready to take on the full gamut of security tasks out there, then we'll step back."

Many residents are grateful for the removal of Saddam Hussein and praise the efforts by the British to win their trust. But many of these proud people also consider the presence of any foreign troops on their soil a humiliation and say they will be glad when they finally leave.

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