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Last Updated: Thursday, 24 April, 2003, 20:35 GMT 21:35 UK
Basra could soon rebel, warns Army
A young boy fills his jug from a tapped city water pipe on the outskirts of Basra
Some locals are having to drink dirty water
The population of Basra could turn against British forces if quality of life does not improve, a UK military commander has warned.

Brigadier Graham Binns, commanding officer of the 7th Armoured Brigade, the Desert Rats, spoke as doctors warned of a potential cholera outbreak in the southern Iraqi city.

As British engineers continued to struggle to restore water and basic services to the city's 1.2 million people, he said his biggest fear was failing to deliver improvements to infrastructure.

"There are people who do not wish a long-term coalition or Western presence in Iraq, and they see it as an army of occupation," Brigadier Binns said.

"There is no evidence of them resorting to arms, but there is the possibility, in the longer term, of the use of arms to persuade us to leave rather quicker than we would wish.

Iraqi people take water from a polluted area for household needs in Basra
Electricity supply
Political structure
Source: Brigadier Graham Binns, 7th Armoured Brigade

"We are keen to enter the political process in order to reduce the military presence," he said.

"They are expecting us to deliver. We have just come through the honeymoon period and are in the first flush of marriage.

"We're not at the seven-year itch yet. People are still waving on the streets and we haven't got to the point yet where people are ignoring us."

He identified four areas which need urgent improvement: electricity supply, water, schools and the political structure.

Electricity remains at only 45% capacity, and people who had power before the war now have it only two or three hours a day, said Brigadier Binns.

Dirty water

The Red Cross said the water supply was still only about 60% to 70% operational, leaving tens of thousands without running water.

Huge amounts of water in tankers are being delivered by the military and aid agencies, but demand is far outstripping supply.

Red Cross spokesman Andres Kruesi said he thought sabotage - possibly by Baath loyalists - could be the reason for the slow return of normal services.

"Who would steal elements of a transformer station in the core of the infrastructure?" he told the news agency AFP.

Mr Kruesi added that Basra had been relatively unscathed by the bombing, and that the infrastucture remained "fairly intact".

"Looters caused more damage to the water and electricity infrastructure than the bombing," he said.

War wounded being treated in Basra hospital
We have a very bad system now, and if we have one patient with cholera there will be an outbreak
Dr Ahmed Abdul Hassan, Basra Teaching Hospital

Reporters have described crowds of hundreds in Basra having to fill containers of dirty water from broken pipes or straight from the murky Shatt Al-Arab waterway.

Brigadier Binns said the situation was improving and engineers were working flat out on an "incredibly tricky system".

Rumblings of discontent do indeed appear to be coming from the Basra population.

In a small town north of Basra a local teacher told reporters: "Things are much worse now than they ever were before, people don't have electricity or water.

"The English and the American forces and Saddam Hussein have joined together in killing us. They are the same."

One Basra doctor said the medical infrastructure had been damaged to such an extent, one case of cholera could lead to an outbreak.

Antibiotic shortage

Dr Ahmed Abdul Hassan, of the Basra Teaching Hospital surgical department, said his hospital, which has up to 150 doctors, was running out of medicine and the situation was worse than before the war.

The after-effects of the war, coupled with the accumulated poverty from years of Saddam Hussein's rule, have made the city's people desperate
The BBC's Jon Duffy

Cholera is controllable with antibiotics but kills up to 80% of those infected if not treated.

Dr Hassan and the rest of the hospital staff had not been paid for two months.

"If it doesn't happen soon people will quit their jobs," he said.

Colonel John Graham, Commander Medical of the 1st UK Division, warned that cholera was indeed becoming a "danger" in the city.

"The water supply is still very patchy and mid-April is the start of the cholera season," he said.

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