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Last Updated:  Saturday, 12 April, 2003, 18:31 GMT 19:31 UK
British plan joint patrols in Basra
British soldier in Basra
The British have been criticised for failing to restore order
British forces are planning to start joint patrols with local policemen in Basra, southern Iraq.

There is currently widespread looting taking place in the town and reports of muggings and robberies.

The troops are making contact with the local authorities and plan to start patrols on Saturday.

The forces there have been heavily criticised for not restoring order much more quickly.

It is logical to use the people who have done the job before
Lieutenant Colonel Ronnie McCourt
"We're trying to fill this vacuum... we'd hate to win the war but lose the peace," Lieutenant Colonel Ronnie McCourt told the BBC.

He admitted choosing police for the patrols would be difficult as some law enforcers would have links to Saddam Hussein's regime.

"I suspect the policemen at the top of the regime we would be more suspicious of. At the lower levels I suspect the average Iraqi policeman would not be so tainted," he said.

"It is logical to use the people who have done the job before... we are not going to employ anybody until we've vetted them and made sure they are acceptable to the local population."

The BBC's Clive Myrie in Basra decribed the plan as a "bold move" but added that British troops simply need "more feet on the ground" to patrol such a big city.

'Natural exuberance'

The military initially attempted to characterise the civil disorder in Basra as "natural exuberance" after the fall of Saddam Hussein.

"We understand these are people who have been oppressed... we understand the pent up emotions... but we're not going to allow it to go on unchecked," said Colonel McCourt.

The current lawlessness in Iraq may mean UK forces there are in breach of the Geneva Convention, according to one expert.

Bradford University peace studies professor Paul Rogers told BBC News: "Any occupying power that has destroyed a regime is responsible for maintenance of hospitals, medical services and food supplies.
Nagim Abdoul Nabiy
We have a blood bank, but no blood
Ward assistant Ali Haffat
Basra General Hospital

"The British are failing to fulfil their responsibilities under the Geneva Convention."

UK troops were "neither sufficient nor properly trained" to maintain public order, Professor Rogers said.

"They have not been able to control the looting."

On Friday UK troops shot and killed five Iraqi bank robbers during looting in the city.

A British soldier was receiving treatment in a field hospital after being shot in the stomach when the robbers opened fire.

The patrol from the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards initially thought the bank robbers were looters but the soldiers were then shot at, a UK military source told the Press Association.

On Saturday, Clive Myrie also reported that crowds were trying to dig up ground at the former secret police headquarters in Basra, hoping to get through to missing loved ones they believed may be in cells below.

There are also concerns of a growing humanitarian crisis in southern Iraq as charities complain most areas are inaccessible to aid organisations.

The BBC's Clive Myrie reports from Basra
"Coalition forces have lost credibility for working with the Iraqi police force"

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