If you British pull out, there will be chaos (TELEGRAPH UK) By Oliver Poole in Amarah 01/29/05)
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Many Sh´ites in Maysan province resent the British troops who patrol
their streets. But, when the shooting starts and the bullets fly in
another local feud, it is to the foreign soldiers that they turn to
keep the peace.
The state north of Basra bordering Iran has a history of smuggling
and banditry stretching back generations and the governor has no
doubt what would happen if the present British military contingent in
the area were removed - "chaos".
The chief of police is no less adamant about the loss to the region
of a battalion of the Welsh Guards.
"The security agencies are still weak and their equipment is not up
to a good level," said Ismael Arar Kadum, 41, in the state capital,
"They must be here to the end of 2005, even the end of the year
after. Only then may we be ready."
This view is shared by many of his men.
At a training camp for the police tactical support unit one officer
admitted that he often wore a balaclava on operations because he was
concerned that his family could be harmed.
"There are more of us but still we lack equipment," he said. "We
receive only 90 bullets a time and sometimes you go to get more and
there are none."
British officers admit privately that the coverings undermine the
"At times you see them being ridiculed by children when they are on
patrol," said one officer. "The children know that they are
frightened." In Maysan the relationship between the Iraqis and the
troops in their midst remains ambivalent.
The region was the centre of the most bitter fighting involving
British soldiers during last summer´s Shia uprising, when British
soldiers reported that at times they were confronting men dressed in
police uniforms, an unsettling experience even if the clothes were
Some locals maintain that the foreigners are themselves to
blame. "The fact that the British are here creates the problem," a 28-
year-old said. "It antagonises people. They leave, the problem goes
Accompanying a British foot patrol through Amarah´s main market
involves numerous thumbs up and shouts of "hello". But it also
provides the sight of posters of Muqtada al-Sadr, the militant Shia
cleric, stuck to almost every shop and stall.
Yet when there are serious disturbances, the local community leaders
turn to the British. The Welsh Guards have even been required to
intervene in violent tribal fights that the civilian authorities
could not control.
Few of the soldiers on the ground are reticent in making clear that,
ideally, progress would be quicker. A functioning police force is
their exit strategy from the mud huts, potential mortar attacks and
towns where every household has its own gun.
"We cannot leave with any moral certainty unless we know they can
look after themselves," said Major Charles Antelme, 34.
"We know it is in our interests for them to be as good as they can
possibly be." But as long as armed men in balaclavas flaunting AK-47s
continue to man checkpoints, stand guard outside government buildings
and direct traffic, the time for a realistic hand-over remains remote.
For these figures whose appearance elsewhere in the world would
signal terror and illegality are security forces disguised to hide
their identity and avoid reprisals. (© Copyright of Telegraph Group
Limited 2004. 01/29/05)
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