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Safety concerns for Iraq troops -

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Safety concerns for Iraq troops

Reporter: Matt Brown

MATT BROWN: The British army has taken control of Muthanna province in Iraq's south with just 600
men.

SOLDIER: With a magazine of 30 rounds, load. Safety catch, check the top two rounds, press the
magazine housing in, shake it, make sure its secure, walk away.

MATT BROWN: 450 Australians will soon join the British in what's been dubbed "the province of
peace". But clearly, there are still dangers to be reckoned with. The Australians will be helping
the British secure a province that's mostly desolate and unforgiving.

LT-COL. TIM WILSON, TASK FORCE EAGLE COMMANDER, BRITISH ARMY: So an enhancement of Australians will
improve our capability quite considerably.

MATT BROWN: In the north, near the Euphrates and Tigris rivers, lies Samawah city, the provincial
centre of Al-Muthanna province. A Dutch soldier was killed here last year when his convoy was
attacked.

LT. RORY FERGUSON, TROOP LEADER, BRITISH ARMY: As it was crossing the bridge a motorcyclist
beneath, on the road that runs underneath, threw a grenade up. Unfortunately, one of the sergeants,
whose name I think was Sesbah, was killed in that incident.

MATT BROWN: Australia is sending 40 light-armoured vehicles to Al-Muthanna to match the 40 the
British have brought in. But the protection they offer can be a double-edged sword.

LT-COL. TIM WILSON: Because it is more benign here, it's more benign than a lot of the other
provinces, and I think that if you were to operate with armoured vehicles on a daily basis, it
would be potentially fairly inflammatory.

MATT BROWN: While the Australian contingent will provide an important boost, the bottom line is
their presence is designed to improve security in the province, and it's not absolutely crucial to
maintaining it.

LT-COL. TIM WILSON: Well, I mean, ostensibly we are going to be handling it ourselves. I've just
taken over from the Dutch and we are, certainly for the next couple of months, until such time as
the Australians come on board, we are going to be, sort of, handling it ourselves.

MATT BROWN: Could you sustain that, though?

LT-COL. TIM WILSON: I think it would be possible to sustain, but it would be very difficult to
sustain, because the Dutch have moved from a force of about 1,300 and we're suddenly moving down to
about 600 or so. Which makes it easy enough to sustain, but it doesn't necessarily make it easy to
actually sort of really move the whole thing forward.

MATT BROWN: Dutch troops have used six of their own well-armed Apache helicopters to deter attacks
and conduct surveillance, where and when they need it.

LT-COL. FRITZ VAN DOOREN, COMMANDER, NETHERLANDS BATTLE GROUP: They can be present all over the
province quite fast, and all the people on the ground, also the civilians, know what the Apache
can, and they are quite scared about them. If you can rely on your own assets, such as air support
by Apache helicopters, it's quite useful.

MATT BROWN: But British and Australian troops will have to rely on other coalition allies for this
kind of help - help the British Commander says can be delivered fairly quickly.

LT-COL. TIM WILSON: I can guarantee that the process, we would go through the process to try to
make sure that we can have that. You can never absolutely guarantee anything in terms of military
support.

MATT BROWN: Because the Dutch have had Apache attack helicopters; Australians don't.

LT-COL. TIM WILSON: Dutch have Apache. No, and we haven't got Apache either, but what we do have is
air power here, which we can call on via the Americans and the like.

MATT BROWN: In the past four months alone, the Apaches flew 54 missions carrying the Dutch Quick
Response Force and 300 missions just to make a show of force in the air. But the Apaches are not a
cure-all. Earlier last year, another Dutch soldier lost his life in an ambush - this time in the
town of Orumitha.

LT-COL. FRITZ VAN DOOREN: There was an ambush by, I think, 40 to 50 people and it happened during
the night. There you are having an ambush in the city, it's quite difficult to relay on your Apache
helicopters because air support in urban warfare is quite difficult.

MATT BROWN: In just the past four months, in the so-called province of peace, the Dutch encountered
10 incidents of small-arms fire, four explosions, six hand grenades, three mortar or rocket
attacks, six home-made bombs and one car bomb. And Dutch troops seized more than 200 anti-personnel
mines, more than 2,000 rockets, and more than 450 mortars. Many of the people in Muthanna province
are desperately poor. The stench from the slums of Samawah city can be smelt kilometres away. The
sewers are open, the front yards consist of mud and pools of putrid water. When the Australians
arrive here in Samawah, they'll find a community more racked by poverty than insurgency, a group of
people hoping that they too will soon have the basics of life. Indeed, the call for soldiers to
provide a better life is a constant refrain. (Translation): Australian troops must keep control of
security in Samawah. They must also fix our electricity and water.

(Translation): We need the troops to give us jobs then security will improve.

MATT BROWN: A Japanese force has been sent to the province to try and rebuild it. Australian troops
will soon be providing security in the general vicinity of the Japanese force. But the Japanese do
have the ability to defend themselves, and their commander says, based on purely military
considerations, he'd be prepared to stay in Muthanna without the assistance of others.

COL. KIYOHIKO OTA, JAPAN RECONSTRUCTION GROUP: I don't pull your army forces to Muthanna province.
I think each government will decide. If the Japanese government say, "You should go to Iraq to
rehabilitate the Iraqi people", anytime we say "yes, sir".

MATT BROWN: Even if there is no British and Australian overarching security?

COL. KIYOHIKO OTA: Yes, I think so.

MATT BROWN: The Japanese are, however, prevented by law from attacking another force and their
rules of engagement mean they have to act more like police than soldiers.

COL. KIYOHIKO OTA: That's why we need close coordination and close cooperation with Australian Army
forces.

MATT BROWN: And the Japanese camp itself has been attacked.

COL. KIYOHIKO OTA: Mortar attack and rocket attack -

MATT BROWN: Mortar and rocket?

COL. KIYOHIKO OTA: Mortar and rocket, but fortunately no casualties.

MATT BROWN: The mortar fell outside the camp perimeter, but the rocket attack on this force, the
force Australian soldiers are being sent to protect, occurred less than eight weeks ago.

COL. KIYOHIKO OTA: The latest attack in January this year, that is rocket attack.

MATT BROWN: The rocket landed inside the Japanese camp, but did not explode. The ultimate goal of
the Australian mission is to hand over responsibility for security in Muthanna province to Iraqi
forces, and the Australian military wants to do that within a year. Would they be ready within a
year to work without the assistance you're offering them now?

LT-COL. TIM WILSON: It's very difficult to put an absolute timeline on it. I mean, of course, the
next sort of critical juncture is the next set of elections at the end of December. And I suspect
at that stage, there may well be a time to make the decision as to just how much longer a
multi-national force will remain.

MATT BROWN: A year from now, Australian troops will be well-known faces in al-Muthanna and, based
on recent events, they'll have also experienced some direct danger.