Basra sits on the largest reserve of untapped oil in Iraq, yet most of the city is in a state of abject poverty. Sadam Hussein was particularly harsh on Basra- a region of the country he never liked much. During the Gulf War the Shiite majority, supported the Americans and were punished after the war.
The British were deployed to this area first. That is changing now as the Brits pull out and the Americans take over. The 2228th MP Company is helping set up PTT stations (police transition teams)s to train the local Iraqi police. The British were working with the Iraqi army. The Iraqi police (IP) and the Iraqi army (IA) coincide with each other but not peacefully. There are violent acts perpetuated against each group by the other, as well as the threat of insurgents and Hezbollah, who cross the boarder from neighboring Iran. Adding to the problem are citizens living in the projects created by Sadam Hussein, on land he destroyed by draining the areas marshland destroying the eco-system and hindering the economy in the region before the war. These housing units are slums and are a hotbed of criminal activity.
Both missions I went on served doubled as reconnaissance missions. There are no street signs, so the troops plot their course from maps and hi-tech navigation systems. Those tools don’t address medians that cant be crossed and places where the roads are impassible due to the overflow of people at the markets places. The only way to learn the streets seems to be to hit them.
The convoys drew attention since an American presence here is new. Kids come close by to check out the passing vehicles. The forces throw candy at them, a practice meant to prevent them from throwing rocks. Only one kid threw rocks at the convoy that I noted.
The homes, and remnants of the homes are made of concrete block. The cityscape is gray, except for the colorful banners with images of political figures and Mullahs on them,black,red and green Iraqi flags and the occasional fruit stand. Litter is strewn everywhere. The dust and sand blowing around adds to the drabness by blanketing everything.
Basra is pretty calm/safe at the moment. A lot of money has been used for public works and other funds have been spread around to stop the violence – paying for peace and saving lives. The civil military programs have made it clear to the citizens of Basra, that the coalition is trying to do good for the people; this and the fact money is being spread around, have made conditions safer in the region. The squad I was out with was highly alert all the same, at the ready to defend themselves once we left the wire.
We found ourselves taking a route that now has been determined to be not the best way to go. It was like being on the set of “Mad Max”. Once through the junkyard, we got stuck in traffic by the market place. Shoppers weaved in and out of our convoy, for the most part just checking out the soldiers with curiosity. There was one citing of a kid with a toy gun, something we were warned about- kids being given toy guns to taunt the soldiers with. The market area was bustling, a good indicator that signs or life and prosperity are returning to Basra.
The next few weeks I’ll learn more about Basra. Phin and I will be working with Navy Captain Robert Lansden, from Louisiana who is responsible for a lot of the civil military projects in the area.