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Last Updated: Thursday, 16 February 2006, 18:10 GMT
Testing time for UK troops in Basra
Woman reading News of the World
The pictures surfaced in a Sunday tabloid newspaper
Pictures published in a UK tabloid of British troops appearing to abuse Iraqi civilians have again prompted questions over the Army's approach in Basra.

The provincial council in southern Iraq has suspended relations with British forces over the stills that the News of the World says came from a 2004 video.

Three soldiers have been arrested.

Local protests are planned for Saturday and city councillors have spoken of what they say are heavy-handed tactics by troops and a need for better communication.

The deployment in Basra has already been a tough job, but the new lack of co-operation presents a fresh challenge for working troops, says Charles Heyman.

Intelligence reduced

The editor of annual publication The Armed Forces of the United Kingdom, who served in the army for 20 years, says the extent of the suspension and its outcome is too early to call but the situation will be clearer after the weekend's protests.

The deployment's ability to work in the city depends on co-operation from the local government and police.

Without that, he says, they are limited to protecting the few hundred yards around where they are based, as a main source of their intelligence information comes from them. Patrols, and other law and order controls would not be able to operate.

The British troops have a reputation in Basra for being heavy handed
Dr Salaman Wethib
Basra city councillor

"They are patrolling in support of the local authority, if there's none to support, it's very difficult for them. It may well be they are stuck inside their barracks concerning themselves with local defence."

Basra provincial councillor Dr Salaman Wethib told the BBC News website the relations in Basra between troops and politicians had changed when the leadership in the UK army in the city changed.

Most UK forces in the city go out there on a six-monthly rotation. The current 7th Armoured Brigade have been in the city since October/November, and are due to stay until March April, according to the MoD.

In charge of the Basra city battle group is Brigadier Patrick Marriot, he reports to Major General John Cooper, in charge of the multinational division, South East Iraq.

Dr Wethib feels the army does not listen enough to his administration's views and needs to remember it was there in Iraq to help the administration "stand on its own feet" to run the country peacefully.

'Highly-developed society'

"The British troops have a reputation in Basra for being heavy handed," he said.

"Not only during demonstrations, but also during raids on people's homes. They have a very rough manner and this is unacceptable."

He called for more co-operation and information-sharing in situations like arrests.

It may mean a different relationship, with the local authority probably having more say in affairs than they have had up to now.
Charles Heyman
Editor

Major Heyman says the reports of resentments "resonates" with what he has heard from Basra.

"We are not talking about a country that was stuck in the dark ages, this was a highly developed society," he says. "To suddenly have thousands of troops inflicted on you is a terrible blow to their self esteem."

But he is optimistic relations will resume soon, although he thinks the interplay between British troops and the local authority is likely to remain altered as a result of the protest.

That will be reflected out on patrol, as the two sides work together.

"Co-operation will be resumed," he says. It's in the interests of the local authority because of political, diplomatic and economic reasons.

"It may mean a different relationship, with the local authority probably having more say in affairs than they have had up to now."

Context needed

Whatever the outcome of the latest setback, former senior Army officer Colonel Tim Collins says it is important that UK troops actions on the ground are regarded in context:

"When the hysteria calms down let us just get this into perspective," he says.
Lt Col Tim Collins: Commanding Officer
Lt Col Tim Collins in Iraq

"This is a riot and the men shown, probably teenage soldiers- are reacting with controlled violence - albeit over the top. That will be dealt with and the guilty disciplined.

"Remember we are talking about the British Army who maintains its place at the peak of the highest standards of behaviour and discipline.

"Do not forget that they are meeting the petrol bombs and the grenades with batons and plastic shields - as well as the inappropriate fists and boots.

"This sort of behaviour causes huge disappointment amongst Iraqis - they have told me so with regard to other incidents of such abuse - because it is what they routinely expect from their own troops and police but not from the British.

'Proportionate force'

He stressed most countries commonly use force in a riot situation.

Any perpetrators of abuse in the British army are subject to military law and must be swiftly disciplined.

But he said army commanders must resolve to be better leaders and they had to improve the way the situation on the ground was explained to the public.

They (troops) perform an outstanding job in often challenging conditions
MoD spokesman

He believes troops were overstretched and the problems in Basra are one example of what happens when service men are asked to do more than they are equipped to do. That had bearing for future plans to send troops to Afghanistan, he added.

A Ministry of Defence spokesman said it "regretted" the decision by the Basra Provincial Council to withdraw co-operation.

But, he added: "We will continue to strive to restore relations and maintain the good works that are being undertaken to assist the people of Basra."

The MoD rejected the idea that UK forces are heavy handed or overstretched.

"They perform an outstanding job in often challenging conditions. Great care is taken to ensure that force used is always proportionate to the situation.

"Our forces are busy, but the impact of our commitments in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere on our readiness to conduct future operations is judged to be manageable."


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