Saturday, March 21, 2009

What will happen when Brits leave Basra?

A year ago, Iraq's security forces often had to fire on their own troops instead of fighting the supposed enemy.

Some 2,000 policemen defected to an Islamic militia and another 4,000 were sacked for alleged spying.

Yet, in just a few months, the burden of policing Iraq's second city will fall squarely on homegrown recruits as Britain's 4,000-strong force withdraws.

Many of their senior officers served under Saddam Hussein but they are described cautiously as 'Iraqi-good-enough' by Lt Col Jonny Price, one of 850 British soldiers advising the Iraqis.

He admits there is distrust between Iraqi soldiers and police officers but adds: 'They've come a long way. They're human rights-compliant, relatively well-trained, quite fit and reasonably well-paid.'

The trainees, based at Camp Saad outside Basra, have seized 2,758 weapons since June, making 441 arrests.

Col Price described their commander as 'a bit of a despot' but said he was generally 'a good man'.
Abdul, a lieutenant in the new army, told me: 'People can go out at nights now, walk the streets or markets in safety. Soon Iraq will be as normal as anywhere else.'

But many recruits face intimidation for joining up – and most will be glad to see the back of the Brits.

Policeman Akeel Abdel Hassan said: 'The British did a lot but we still look at them as occupation forces. We would like them to leave now so we can feel we're an independent country again.'

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