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Last Updated: Thursday, 25 December, 2003, 11:24 GMT
Iraq troops celebrate Christmas
Troops in Basra mess
Christmas lunch is being made for around 10,000 troops
British troops in Iraq are enjoying festive celebrations, with carol concerts, presents and Christmas lunch.

Servicemen and women have been calling families back in the UK and making the most of the two beers they are allowed.

Some senior officers have taken on the jobs of the lower ranks as a present to the troops under their command.

But it is also business as usual, with the festivities having to fit in around the need to maintain 24-hour patrols in Basra and surrounding areas.

'Really great'

Army cooks have been making a traditional Christmas roast for the 10,000 British troops on duty at bases in southern Iraq.

UK troops abroad
Germany: 21,500
Gulf region: 9,570
Cyprus: 3,250
Falkland Islands: 1,240
Bosnia/Croatia: 1,153
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UN missions: 456

One female soldier told BBC News: "It's actually been a very good Christmas. I've had a really good morning with a lot of presents.

"There's a really good working atmosphere, we are still at work but we're having a really great time."

The BBC's Caroline Hawley joined soldiers at a base in one of Saddam Hussein's former palaces.

She said: "People are carrying on their business as usual, there are patrols going out all the time."

Hawley added: "There's a very, very high alert at the gates of the palace because the fear is there could be some kind of spectacular attack here."

Senior soldiers told her the upbeat mood of the celebrations reflected the progress that had been made towards restoring stability in Basra and handing power back to Iraqis.

Bingo night

The Muslim culture, sunshine and desert landscape provides an unusual but memorable backdrop to the festivities.

UK troops patrolling in Basra
After our Christmas dinner, it's bingo night. We try to get everyone in the Christmas spirit
Sergeant Major Poole

Another distraction for the troops is the new Shaibah Logistics Centre, just outside Basra, which is run by the Naafi.

The centre, which opened last week, has a big-screen bar and a shop selling the latest CDs, books and magazines.

Father-of-four Sergeant Major Poole, 38, from Abingdon, Oxford, is facing his first Christmas on duty for 21 years.

"We've got a great day planned here," he said.

"We're going for a fun run in the morning in fancy dress. Then we'll play football and volleyball in the afternoon.

"And after our Christmas dinner, it's bingo night. We try to get everyone in the Christmas spirit."

The BBC's Caroline Hawley
"They are making concessions to Christmas here"

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