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Last Updated: Saturday, 18 March 2006, 19:13 GMT
Old practices die hard in Basra
By Jane Corbin
BBC Panorama, Basra

Market in Basra
Business in Basra's markets is booming
Basra's markets are buzzing. Since the war this area, starved of goods by long years of sanctions, has boomed.

The south has always been the natural economic engine of Iraq because of its oil wealth, rich agriculture and long trading tradition.

Under Saddam Hussein and the Baath party, the repressed Shia population here was deliberately deprived of funding and education and saw its riches re-distributed further north to Baghdad and the so-called Sunni Triangle, the area between the capital, Ramadi and Tikrit.

But while there's an upside to the economic boom, it also creates some problems. The increased sales of consumers goods, the fans and the air conditioners, further drain the dilapidated electricity network and so people still suffer power shortages.

Some 6,500 leaks in Basra's water system were plugged by British aid in the wake of the war but the run-down infrastructure will need massive capital investment to deliver drinkable water to people's houses.

Schools are now operating as normal. There is a shortage of buildings and teachers, another legacy of Saddam Hussein who only allowed children here to reach primary level. Schools now have to hold three shifts a day to enable everyone to have lessons.

Security concerns

Opinion polls taken in the south last November suggest a third of people want the British to go immediately or as soon as there is a new government. But 60% want the coalition to stay until security is restored or Iraqi forces can operate independently.

But as to our living standards it's the opposite - they haven't improved - we're still in the same state as we were under Saddam
An Iraqi family described to Panorama their lives now and how they had changed since the war. Haidar and Mohamed are cousins - still squatting with their families in the house of one of Saddam Hussein's henchmen who fled from Basra. Security still tops the list of their concerns.

"The positive things are - we can get on with our day to day life now" says Mohamed

"We aren't restricted anymore and can openly debate with other people. Whereas before we weren't able to do so.

"But as to our living standards it's the opposite - they haven't improved - we're still in the same state as we were under Saddam!"

Haidar says: "Credit is due to the occupying forces for getting rid of Saddam. If it wasn't for the British army's intervention the violence in Basra would not have been stopped.

"I'm not saying I like them. But, as long as our government is weak their presence here is necessary. Once our government is strong enough we all want them to leave."

But Mohamed was doubtful. "I wonder if the occupiers leave us, will we be able to unite or will things get worse," he says. "Its an uncertain situation."


With unemployment running at 80% in the south, the real growth industry is in the new Iraqi security services being built by the coalition.

Police recruits training in Basra
The real growth industry is in the new Iraqi security services
The UK army and police officers are trying to train a new clean and competent force but when Mohamed tried to get a job he found that local officials in charge of recruitment still do things the old way.

"He said 'you will go through a secretive employment process', so I thought to myself: 'this will involve bribery and money' explained Mohamed.

He went on with his story. "So after 10 days he contacted me and told me to come over and bring some money with me, and I thought what is this?

"It was pretty obvious that it was about bribery. There is no difference between this regime and the old regime. I see no difference, they're both about bribery!"

The British army believes that small reconstruction projects started after the invasion are still the key to hearts and minds in the city.

On a patrol with Captain Jamie Lothian, an engineer from the 7th Armoured Brigade, we visited a school playground, a footbridge and a drainage canal - all paid for by the British military.

Iraqi contractors are employed and local sheikhs enjoy the prestige these projects bring to their neighbourhoods.

This reconstruction aid only scratches the surface of what needs to be done but it is a way of winning consent for soldiers on the ground.

On these foot patrols the British still wear soft hats. The atmosphere in the poor Shia area we visited was relaxed but as we left a few stones were thrown.

The soldiers believe this is because the people here, down-trodden for so long, are testing their new found democracy and their right to determine their own lives, free from foreign control.

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