Page last updated at 01:12 GMT, Saturday, 31 January 2009

High hopes for peaceful elections

By Paul Adams
BBC News, Basra

Iraqi soldiers in Basra
The Iraqi army is deployed in strength around the city

In the fifth instalment of his week-long diary, BBC diplomatic correspondent Paul Adams discovers high hopes that the elections will go ahead peacefully.

After a week of unbroken sunshine, the clouds gather and it rains. It patters hard on the canvas covering the makeshift solar showers and forms wide puddles around the Mastiff armoured vehicles parked outside. It is cold.

With Saturday's provincial elections taking place, the men of Princess of Wales's Royal Regiment are pretty much confined to barracks. They already keep a low profile in the city, but will be invisible on polling day. Nothing must be allowed to alter the impression that this is an entirely Iraqi affair.

The men are briefed on events in the city. Their area of operations includes numerous polling stations. The Iraqi army is deployed in strength around the city, securing the outer perimeters of polling stations, and no-one here seems to think there will be trouble.

But with a couple of hundred British soldiers still based in the city, and 4,000 stationed nearby, they will respond if the Iraqis ask for help.

Sgt Maj Jim Leach between two British Mastiff armoured vehicles

Given that the successful holding of provincial elections is one of the conditions the British government has set for the final withdrawal of its troops from Iraq, everyone hopes the day will pass off peacefully.

The men of 1 PWRR are told what will happen if they are called out. A map is displayed here in their base, showing the locations of polling stations.

But everyone is relaxed and most spend the day attending to chores and studying. An education officer is visiting for a few days and she has got the men's noses in their books.

They are not under any obligation to study, but they know that promotion depends on reaching certain educational standards. For many young men who left school early, it is an opportunity to make up for lost time.

Fred and I prepare video material for tomorrow's election coverage and send it over via satellite. It takes hours. Late in the evening we are told by London that something has gone wrong and it all has to be sent again. Glamorous lifestyle, this.



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