Having been to Basra to witness reconstruction Building's blogger wonders whether Basra's police force is ready for a British withdrawal
Tony Blair’s announcement that the government is to start phased troop withdrawal from Iraq will be generally greeted with cheers, if not calls that it should take place that much quicker. I’m more wary.
It’s been a long time since I spent a week in Basra, reporting on reconstruction for Building. Nearly three years in fact, several months before attacks and kidnappings of foreign workers became common.
So I’m not in the best position to judge, but, whatever the rights or wrongs of attacking Iraq in the first place, my week there made me firm in the belief that we would be needed for a long time. Police forces were being set up, arming men who simply did not understand the gravity of the situation and the importance of their role.
My enduring memory is of a policeman desperately trying to snatch my camera, the nuzzle of his gun pointing at my stomach as it slung from his shoulder. He had no idea, and god only knows if there was a safety catch on. After years of being cut off by Saddam Hussein – the rumour goes that the high rate of leukaemia was a result of his troops poisoning the river – these people were simply not ready to police themselves.
In front of the press, the British soldiers proved themselves to be able advisers and leaders to these people, though I can not speak as highly of the Americans, who seemed to spend most of their time moaning that the French had won a major telecommunications contract.
Like I said, it is a long time ago now, the situation has changed dramatically, and I’m sure on top of that his appears ridiculously patronising, but are their police forces capable of upholding law and order, or could their seeming lack of proper training escalate an already intolerable situation? Then again, our record has been bad… and we were the ones who gave untrained police officers guns so they could set up a police force in the first place.