The population of Basra could turn against British forces if quality of life does not improve, a UK military commander has warned.
Some locals are having to drink dirty water
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
"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.
FOUR AREAS OF URGENT IMPROVEMENT NEEDED
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
"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.
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.
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.
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
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
"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.