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British Troops Work to Win Trust of Iraqi Locals

British troops in southern Iraq have begun trading their helmets for berets, and officials said it is helping them win the trust of the local population.

British officials said that while American troops are on edge following a suicide car bombing at a U.S. Army checkpoint, British forces have begun easing their security profile in parts of southern Iraq.

Prime Minister Tony Blair's spokesman told reporters in London that British troops are taking off their helmets and putting on berets in areas that have been pacified.

He said the aim is to develop a relationship of trust with the local population in towns outside of the main southern city of Basra, which has yet to be captured.

British officials concede it is difficult for troops to let down their guard and try to win civilian support against the fear that Iraq will unleash more suicide bombers, like the one who killed four American servicemen at a roadblock Saturday near Najaf.

Following that incident, U.S. troops fired on a car that refused to stop at a checkpoint, killing seven women and children.

British pollsters say public support for the war continues, but it could erode if the fighting drags on and civilian casualties mount.

Pollster Stephan Shakespeare said backing for the war has dropped five percentage points in recent days, and stands at 54 percent. Speaking on British television, he said people are realizing the war may take longer than they expected.

"What we have seen is that people thought at the beginning of this war it would be a quick war. It would be a few days, maybe a few weeks. Now nearly everybody thinks it is going to be at least one, if not several months," he explained.

Mr. Shakespeare said the British are slightly more reluctant to support the war than Americans are, but he noted that both Prime Minister Blair and President Bush have the approval of more than half of the British public. But Mr. Shakespeare said the British government has a credibility problem, because only half the people believe what it says about the war.