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Last Updated: Friday, 7 April 2006, 21:23 GMT 22:23 UK
South Iraq's unpredictable future
By Mike Wooldridge
BBC world affairs correspondent in Basra

In recent times, Shia-dominated southern Iraq has been spared the kind of bombing seen again on Friday in Baghdad, but it remains an unpredictable part of the country, too.

British soldier on patrol in Basra, southern Iraq
It is time for the multi-national forces to go, villagers say

In this region that was left poor in the Saddam Hussein era, it is still poverty that is uppermost in many people's minds today.

Travelling through the rural hinterland around the southern city of Basra, people's description of their lives was much the same in one village after another.

No safe water- not for free anyway; erratic power if they have it at all; few job prospects beyond working on the land or fishing in the waterways of this area - though that does not deter young boys from saying they want to be doctors or teachers.

One village had stagnant pools of water full of rubbish, reinforcing this picture of communities that have yet to see much development or any real change.

Traditional culture is the norm here: men out and about; boys and young girls out playing; women in the background. One village I stopped at was so close-knit that they said nearly everyone was related.

Material change

A British patrol passing through the area was waved at by many of the children.

But in one village, a man told the soldiers that the community could protect itself and it was now time for the multi-national forces to go. He gestured with his hand to underline his point.

These particular villages might have been quiet but this is still a volatile region, not only Basra city itself.

Mortars and rockets are fired from the outlying areas, though the multi-national forces have had some success in intercepting them.

The politics now being played out in Baghdad as the politicians still struggle to form a government seem remote to the villagers I met.

Though it is to the government first of all that they look to bring some material change to their lives, three years on from the US invasion that brought Saddam Hussein's rule to an end in this part of Iraq.



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