As coalition troops advance towards Baghdad, preparations are being made to get the main Iraqi port of Umm Qasr running, to get vital humanitarian aid into the country. To help reach that goal, British forces are now hiring local civilians. Auria Makki has this report.
Here in the main Iraqi port of Umm Qasr, these men are not waiting to get aid. They are young Iraqi men registering to work alongside British soldiers. The troops are initially seeking to hire 85 men to help them get the port running again. The southern port will be the key route for most supplies and aid coming into the country. This soldier says there are at least two reasons for hiring civilians.
“We are trying to gain their trust initially and also we’re trying to get an influx of money into their society.”
Many Iraqis will be working as cooks and cleaners. The jobs will support the local economy and provide income for families who have not been able to work for at least a month. Before the war, the Iraqi government claimed it had distributed enough food rations for six months. The World Food Program has estimated the true figure is no more than two months.
“ No water. No, no bread.”
This man says he has been waiting for the troops to come to Umm Qasr.
“Unfortunately they came too late but we are comfortable they are here. Thank God.”
According to British officials, the U.S. military would rather hire American civilians to run the port, but the British insist hiring Iraqis is the only way to gain the people’s trust.
“As you can see, while we are talking to them we’re reassuring them all the time. And by speaking to them and showing that we’re human and not this monster that’s outside the border, we gain their trust.”
In another significant development, coalition forces were able to restore power in Umm Qasr Wednesday. The port city had been without water and electricity since the conflict began two weeks ago.
Before the war, water and electricity came from Basra. But Iraqi authorities cut both utilities before fighting started. With the power now turned on, conveyer belts and empty 12-floor silos can begin working again, handling U.S. and Australian grain shipments waiting offshore.