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Last Updated: Thursday, 17 April, 2003, 09:37 GMT 10:37 UK
Restoring order in Basra

By Ryan Dilley
BBC News Online, in Basra

The battle for Basra may have been won almost two weeks ago, but the city remains a dangerous place for British troops as they criss-cross its streets trying to restore order. BBC News Online joins a patrol.

For a huge hunk of metal, Call Sign 33 - a Warrior armoured fighting vehicle of the Irish Guards - moves at a furious pace.

"This is the definitely the fastest wagon," says Lance Sergeant Pete Clifford, looking through the tiny window of thick glass as we barrel past battered Iraqi taxis.

This speed comes at a price. Inside the dusty, dark and hot passenger compartment, the whirring of the tank tracks hammers at the four Guardsmen's ears.

The vibration as the Warrior churns over the rough tarmac roads numbs the soles of the feet and rattles the teeth.

Poverty

Call Sign 33 fought its way into Basra two weeks ago and liberated the city - as the Irish Guards are at pains to point out - several hours before the Parachute Regiment turned up.

The ferocious fighting cost the lives of two men from Call Sign 33's sister Warrior.

Our current mission is more complex, but potentially no less dangerous.

Three Warriors have been tasked to sweep across the city - from their base in a backstreet gym - to address problems not only with Basra's civil affairs, but also threats to its security from armed regime loyalists.

BASRA RECOVERY
British soldier at entrance to Basra

The heavy door of 33 swings open and the Guardsmen pile out onto the dirt roads of the pitifully poor Rashid district.

Sergeant Clifford immediately dispatches his heavily armed men to crouch in doorways and beside walls to scan the area for any hostile activity.

This intense vigilance does not, however, preclude the men greeting the local people who quickly gather.

They were the first to patrol this area after the city's fall and many children now know the soldiers by name.

School shut

Several find particular delight in showing that they remember the Aston Villa tattoo on Sergeant's forearm.

"I was drunk," he admits, as the children point at their own arms.

That so many young people are crowding around the Warriors on a weekday is a concern which prompts an immediate visit to the nearby school.

There has been no looting of the classrooms, though aside from the uncomfortable looking benches and scarred blackboard there is little to steal anyway.

School
The school caretaker was told to reopen the building
"I'll be back tomorrow and I want to see this school open," says the officer leading the patrol, Captain James Moulton, to caretaker Ismail Sadoon.

"Your Imam says it's very important to open the school. You must have children here tomorrow or I will be very angry."

Mr Sadoon, having listened intently, replies that he has had no such order from the education ministry - the ministry of a government which no longer exists.

"We give the orders now," says Captain Moulton, whose next demand is that the school's two portraits of Saddam Hussein be painted out before classes start.

Next stop is the police station. After a false start, local Iraqi officers have stopped work to re-register with the British.

The move is intended to weed out the corrupt or those too badly tainted by their involvement with the last regime.

Hostility

In the meantime, Rashid is without law and order.

"When the soldiers come, Ali Baba [the Iraqi slang for thieves] disappears," says Hassan Kadum Abbas, one of the phalanx of children who shadow the foot patrol's every step, even risking falling under the tracks of the accompanying Warriors.

"We need Iraqi police, but they are not here."

So far the only hostility the soldiers have encountered has come from a veiled woman who angrily shouts from her doorstep about the continued lack of tap water.

We need Iraqi police, but they are not here
Hassan Kadum Abbas
Basra child
Close by, a man has dug up a mains pipe and broken into it searching for water, thus lessening his community's chances of getting supplies any time soon.

Sergeant Clifford logs the map co-ordinates to order its repair.

The local Muslim cleric, Imam Haj Fadel, also complains of a lack of safe water as he invites the patrol into his home.

This dearth does not stop him offering his guests glasses of rather murky water.

Captain Moulton gulps his down, adding: "It would be rude not to drink it."

Grenades

Having discussed the water situation, Captain Moulton asks, with impeccable politeness, if the Imam would distribute leaflets to his worshippers explaining why the British have invaded Basra.

Other leaflets show a cartoon woman hitting a heavily armed Iraqi over the head with a ladle, imploring locals to keep guns off the streets.

The next call sends Call Sign 33 a short distance on before the men are once again ordered onto the street.

Lance Sergeant Pete Clifford
Sgt Clifford had a busy day
The Warriors are here to follow up a report of four non-Iraqi Arabs hiding away in a house.

The British here have faced vicious attacks by men who have travelled to Iraq to join the fighting against the US-led invasion.

Captain Moulton advances on the house with his pistol drawn and cocked.

Soon a huge crowd of Iraqis has assembled, with neighbours coming out to see what has brought the Warriors rumbling into their street.

One of the Palestinians in the target house is equally curious and comes to his gate.

Before the Guardsmen are in properly in position, the man loudly draws back to bolt of the metal door.

"In! Quickly, quickly, quickly!" says Captain Moulton, sweeping the Palestinian and his fistful of playing cards aside.

Soon all four men are seated inside Call Sign 33 and en route to base.

"This is my first time in a tank. It's very small and dark," says Ekrema Samih, an accountancy student at Basra University.

Under fire

The men, who are Palestinian, are taken into the vehicle and driven back to base.

They say they decided not to leave Iraq when lectures were suspended because they lack the money to return.

Sandbags are quickly placed over their heads and plastic restraints bind their wrists.

The men are guided from their seats to blindly step the three feet down to the ground.

As the men of Call Sign 33 stow their rifles and loosen their body armour, they are informed that another of the day's patrols went less smoothly.

Two civilians armed with RPGs dashed into the street to fire on a Land Rover.

One round missed the vehicle, the other smashed straight through without exploding.




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