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Iraq - Beyond the War -

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Iraq - Beyond the War

Broadcast: 03/05/2005

Reporter: Evan Williams

Transcript

WILLIAMS: The dawn of democracy in Iraq has given millions a new voice. But it's still being paid
for in blood. And two years after invasion, western armies are yet to establish when they will
leave.

Basra's airport is the main base for 9,000 British troops controlling southern Iraq, including the
area where Australian troops have just been deployed.

SERGEANT [Giving briefing to soldiers]: You're talking about up to 6,000, 10,000 people in that
particular area and when we start hitting that, then we'll have problems.

WILLIAMS: I'm spending 10 days embedded with these forces to find out what conditions are really
like.

SERGEANT [Giving briefing to soldiers]: Big gas here, infrastructure here.

WILLIAMS: It's safer than much of the country but insurgents can hide within range of the base in
suburbs too cramped to patrol.

SERGEANT [Giving briefing to soldiers]: Okay so it is an area that we are concerned with. If we
can't get into there and we do have some baddies in there that we just can't police properly.

WILLIAMS: When British troops head out then, they take no chances. We're going out on patrol with
British forces on the streets of Basra and while the level of risk is nothing like that in the
north, in and around Baghdad there are still dangers mainly from small improvised bombs left on the
roadside. Despite reports things are quiet down here, there's been at least one of those attacks
every day in the past few months.

They say this village is friendly so it's less dangerous but whenever they can they swap helmets
for soft hats as a sign of reassurance.

SQUADRON LEADER MICK SMEATH [Talking to soldiers]: Okay guys with a non-aggressive posture, okay
one arm on the weapon.

SQUADRON LEADER MICK SMEATH: We're always looking for anything that's against coalition forces out
here but primarily we're here to give confidence to the locals so we're, you know, by giving
confidence to them hopefully they'll look after us as well.

WILLIAMS: In this village it appears to be working. Under Saddam, Iraq's Shi'ite majority was kept
from political power and economic opportunity. For them regime change was welcome.

Ali Hussein, a driver, says he can now feed his four children, that democracy is changing their
lives.

ALI HUSSEIN: If you ask everyone about the elections, I think it's good, very good for us, for
Iraqi.

WILLIAMS: In Shia villages like this, the British forces have become the acceptable face of an army
that has delivered them a measure of political control. It's a far cry from Baghdad and the Sunni
controlled areas, where US methods have led to far greater chaos and bloodshed.

ALI HUSSEIN: American is very dangerous. Anyone ask him about American, he says they are very
dangerous.

WILLIAMS: For Iraqi people?

ALI HUSSEIN: For Iraqi people, for everyone.

WILLIAMS: Why is that, why?

ALI HUSSEIN: I think they are, they are afraid, afraid from the Iraqi people but the British army,
those feeling about the Iraqi like the friends, they don't come by those power and those weapons,
no, they respect us.

WILLIAMS: Respect?

ALI HUSSEIN: Respect us, yes.

WILLIAMS: Okay.

WILLIAMS: Our movement around Basra was totally secured by the British Armed Forces, without it we
just couldn't work here.

And while we saw a great deal, as an embedded journalist I have to ask myself if the Iraq I'm
seeing is the whole picture.

So to find out more of what's really happening on the streets of Basra, I commissioned a local
journalist to collect what he could. Armed with a small camera, our reporter revealed lives
overshadowed by crime and fear.

FAKHER TAMIMI, LOCAL REPORTER: The cases of kidnapping and robbery have increased to an
indescribable extent, kidnapping children and fleecing people of their money. The abduction of
personalities, contractors, businessmen - these are causing confusion and fear for the citizens of
Basra. It's true we recognise we have gained our religious freedom as Shi'ites but not our freedom
to go down the street in safety. The conditions for Iraqis have not changed.

WILLIAMS: To improve that security, British forces are urgently training up local police but for a
few hundred dollars a month, this is a dangerous job. Across the country, insurgents now kill more
Iraqi police and troops than foreign forces.

LT-COLONEL PHIL LEWIS, COMMANDING OFFICER, BRITISH ARMED FORCES: I think it's probably an attempt
to try and undermine their confidence. In order for us to be able to withdraw they need to be
totally confident in their ability to deliver security and I suspect the radical elements that are
still working out there have identified that that's an issue that they can target.

WILLIAMS: Ishan Khizzim, father of five, is one of the new recruits - but why take the risk?

ISHAN KHIZZIM: People have begun to feel the freedom that they lost under the regime. By the will
of God they will sense the freedom in the future with the new government and application of the
law.

WILLIAMS: What do you tell your children when you go to work though?

ISHAN KHIZZIM: I tell them I hope I will come back safely and every time I go I miss them and hope
to see them again.

WILLIAMS: That resolve will be tested on the streets. Those already here also need training and
today that's a job for Britain's Sergeant Mark Hill and his men.

SERGEANT MARK HILL: This patrol is hearts and minds, getting to know the locals, getting to
reassure them with the Iraqi police with us and to reassure the public that the police within Basra
are a worthy cause.

WILLIAMS: The training is clearly needed but many appear keen.

IRAQI POLICEMAN: You're right, it's dangerous but we want to service the people. We're careful, we
have controls - we don't let any of those terrorists hit us.

WILLIAMS: But they do get hit and leave base cautiously for good reason. Almost every day a police
car is blown up by a roadside bomb in Basra. Once a location is chosen, troops first check for
bombs then open a checkpoint for cars.

SERGEANT MARK HILL: We're looking for vehicle bombs within the city itself, any type of explosives
to make bombs, any weapons. Like I said earlier this is a gun culture. A lot of people have
weapons.

WILLIAMS: It's fairly dangerous though isn't it, I mean if anybody did have a car bomb you'd be a
prime target wouldn't you?

SERGEANT MARK HILL: We would, yeah, but as you can see the layout of the VCP we've got cut-offs
left and right, the police are keeping an eye on that to see anything coming towards us and the
cut-offs will give a warning and we'll take cover.

WILLIAMS: Sergeant Hill has learnt enough Arabic to do his job. It puts people at ease, he says,
and helps breaks the ice. But teaching new police old tricks takes time. As we're filming a vehicle
that slipped through the checkpoint is stopped by Sergeant Hill's men.

SERGEANT MARK HILL: This is a vehicle checkpoint by Iraqi police and the British Army. I am going
to search the car.

IRAQI MAN WHO WAS STOPPED: We know we know but the police gave us the order to pass so why did you
stop us? Why did you order us to stop?

WILLIAMS: The men are members of the local government, they resent being stopped by escorting a
Shia religious leader but the police translator, Wissam, wants to pass on what many in Basra fear
this represents - the rise of religious extremists.

WISSAM: In Basra it's better than any city in Iraq but it will be a dangerous situation if the
Islamic parties are still here.

WILLIAMS: This is the great fear of both the occupying forces and the interim Iraqi Government,
that fundamentalist Shia parties will step into the vacuum and take control. These Islamic parties
are already here. Our visit to one is organised and secured by the British Consulate. This is the
Basra headquarters of Sciri, one of the Islamic parties that won most of the seats in Iraq's
January elections. It's a Shia religious party set up by Iraqis in the Islamic Republic of Iran
when the two countries were at war in the 1980s.

Its local chairman, Salah Ismail Bader al-Battat is keen to play down any hardline fundamentalist
policies to a point.

SALAH ISMAIL BADER AL-BATTAT: We are not dictating a particular method but we believe the people of
Iraq respect the values of Islam, are God-fearing and want Islam to be the source of legislation.
But how and when - that is something the Iraqi people ratify themselves.

WILLIAMS: Now Sciri was founded in Iran, many people are suspicious that you are in fact a proxy
for Iranian policy and influence in the country.

SALAH ISMAIL BADER AL-BATTAT: Unfortunately this subject has been suggested from more than one
place. We are not born of Iran, we are sons of Iraq, our decisions are Iraqi, our sources are Iraqi
and our policies are Iraqi.

WILLIAMS: The west hopes extremist aspirations will be tempered by secular Iraqis and Kurds. But
Sciri does receive funds and training from Iran. Its promises of spiritually sanctioned order have
wide appeal here in the Shi'ite slums. Many Basrans already see religious extremism and foreign
interference as part of their daily lives.

Our local reporter spoke to Adel Ali, a school teacher, who recently lost his 21 year old son when
he was killed by a roadside bomb.

ADEL ALI: You know, his relations at work were all good, everyone respected him - he was clean
living, but it's not up to us, it's up to God.

WILLIAMS: Like most Shia, Adel voted in the elections but he voices a view widely held here, that
the violence is being perpetuated by neighbouring countries opposed to democracy taking root in
Iraq.

ADEL ALI: All the countries around us are afraid of the success of the Iraqi experience. They do
not want it applied to their countries to cause trouble for their people and political regimes.

WILLIAMS: Many believe fighters and funding are coming from countries like Syria but it's the
influence seeping across this desert frontier with Iran, just 20 kilometres from Basra, that
worries them most. Iranians believe they have the right to support their fellow Shia Muslims in
Iraq.

CAPTAIN ROB ARMSTRONG: We're very concerned with the porous nature of the border at the moment.

WILLIAMS: Captain Rob Armstrong leads one of the British units trying to secure the frontier.

CAPTAIN ROB ARMSTRONG: As the seasons dry up and the banks of the canal become firmer, we often see
makeshift crossing points being forced across.

WILLIAMS: Coming across that border is not just influence but weapons, among them rocket-propelled
grenades.

CAPTAIN ROB ARMSTRONG: There is evidence of weapons coming across. Only a matter of weeks ago we
had a find here of some forty RPGs that were new, almost in their wrapper still, a number of Soviet
and Chinese variants.

WILLIAMS: Where were they headed for?

CAPTAIN ROB ARMSTRONG: I suspect they were probably moving into Basra city.

WILLIAMS: Whether it's officially sanctioned by the Iranian government or freelance arms smuggling,
the fear is such weapons are heading into the hands of these men.

[Shot of army marching]

This is the Mehdi Army, followers of the radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, parading in the middle of
Basra just a couple of months ago. It has twice fought British and US forces inflicting casualties
nationwide. The Mehdi Army is close to Iran and to a group with known Iranian backing, Hezbollah.

LEADER TALKING TO MEHDI ARMY STANDING TO ATTENTION: Under your orders the parade of the divisions
of the Hezbollah of Iraq!

WILLIAMS: The army is in a truce with the coalition forces, but is believed to be re-arming and
re-grouping.

LT-COLONEL PHIL LEWIS: There's a religious element here, I mean clearly with the religious
influence coming from across Iran to various factions here in Basra and in the south, some more
radical than others but it is still, I think, still fair to say that it's the minority.

WILLIAMS: But the Mehdi Army's political wing, the office of Moqtada al-Sadr or OMS, has its roots
in the Shia majority and is a steadily growing force.

WILLIAMS: These religious militia that people suspect are backed, I mean are they backed by Iran?

LT-COLONEL PHIL LEWIS: I think undoubtedly they are.

WILLIAMS: In terms of funding, arms, training.

LT-COLONEL PHIL LEWIS: I think undoubtedly and inevitably there is influence and help coming from
that side.

WILLIAMS: Both cash and weapons?

LT-COLONEL PHIL LEWIS: I think inevitably, yes.

WILLIAMS: That's pretty concerning though isn't it?

LT-COLONEL PHIL LEWIS: But I think we'd be very naïve to think that they're not going to have an
interest in what's going on here.

WILLIAMS: The OMS did take part in Iraq's January elections, but is now stepping up calls for
foreign troops to go home. While we were in Iraq, our local reporter filmed these men preparing to
join an anti-US rally of 300,000 people and OMS spokesman, Sayed Haider Al-Gabiree had this message
for our camera.

SAYED HAIDER AL-GABIREE: We believe the presence of the British and American forces in Iraq is a
colonizing presence that threatens our values, our thoughts, customs and day to day ways within
Islamic civilisation. We say to the British and the forces of occupation we have the right to
resist.

WILLIAMS: Back on the streets, British troops are patrolling one of Basra's busiest markets. Any
one of these people could be an enemy seeking a close range kill.

BRITISH SOLDIER: There's always the risk of being snatched at any one point. It's very tense it's
very hard work.

WILLIAMS: While they welcomed the election, two years after invasion patience is wearing thin.

ANGRY IRAQI MAN IN CROWD ON STREETS OF BASRA: They haven't come to make anything better. Yes maybe
security, but they didn't come to give something to Basra - not the streets . . . no water.

LT-COLONEL PHIL LEWIS: The people are a bit peeved, as you saw this morning, where's the fresh
water, where's the electricity, who's going to clean up the streets and I spoke to them and it's
not the British forces or the multi-national forces job to do that.

WILLIAMS: Reconstruction will rely on Iraq's oil money but at night that oil is instead flowing
from the country illegally. When Iraq's two great rivers join, they create the Al-Shat Arab, and
it's down this waterway on these boats that untold millions are being lost through fuel smuggling.

[Williams and soldiers travelling along river by boat under night vision]

SOLDIER: The crude oil here is like potatoes to the Irish because there's so much of it. To refine
it is easy, to then sell it abroad is even easier - Iran, Dubai, they're making a lot of money on
the fuel they're selling. Because of that, people are reluctant to give it up. Small timers keeping
families going, big timers keeping people wealthy.

WILLIAMS: This massive illegal trade accounts for 60% of Basra's economy. The British are trying to
help local police stem the tide but with such sums involved, it's still a losing battle.

SOLDIERS TALKING TO EACH OTHER ON BOAT [Looking through nightscope binoculars at smugglers near
shoreline]: They must have gone straight into the house Perky. Yeah there was one in black and
looked like one in grey or white or a lot lighter colour. Does anyone need the interrupter?

WILLIAMS: It's in this security environment that 450 Australian troops have now deployed, based
here at Camp Smitty, an hour's chopper ride west of Basra, which we visited just a few days before
their arrival. It is on paper Iraq's safest province but a few minutes on the ground show it is not
devoid of danger.

SOLDIER AT CAMP SMITTY: On the 27th of March there was a rocket attack on the camp approximately 4
kilometres to the north, the rocket flew over the camp and landed 300 metres on the south east
corner. The rocket did not detonate. Therefore, we expect mortar attacks to happen on the camp any
time after 1900 hours, between 1900 hours and 2100 hours.

WILLIAMS: It's not a regular occurrence, but blast shelters are being built just in case. The very
deployment of a new force could attract attack and there's this view from the OMS.

SAYED HAIDER AL-GABIREE: The Australian forces are essentially a part of American policy. This is
how we see them. We urge these forces to follow Jesus Christ and act out of love and tolerance and
don't put themselves into the same position that America has done. This is what we wish of the
Australian troops.

WILLIAMS: For any forces going into Iraq, the Australian base is the safest place to be. But with
local patience wearing thin and extremist parties ready to exploit any unrest, that safety is still
far from guaranteed in today's Iraq.