Basra Residents Work to Reclaim Civil Order

For the first time in weeks, Capt. Abdul Amir Qasim is back in his green police uniform and out on the streets again.

Fearful of the coalition forces, the 32-year police force veteran had stayed away from work as Basra was being overrun by looters. "We wanted to protect the city from the pillaging but I was afraid," he said. "By the grace of God, I am now ready to go back to work."

Traffic police were recalled Sunday to patrol neighborhoods alongside British troops. Joint patrols were also in the works in Baghdad, Karbala and other cities.

This city of 1.3 million people-- the country's second largest -- has been without running water, electricity or phone service for nearly two weeks. The police force and civilian administration are nonexistent, and many government buildings have been gutted and looted clean.

The chaotic, rampant looting that characterized the first few days of British control have largely subsided with the presence of armored tanks and soldiers on city streets. At night, though, sporadic gunfire still ricochets through town.

Baghdad, too, was somewhat quieter, though the change is less pronounced there. Sporadic but tough measures by Marines, along with checkpoints and vigilante groups thrown together by Iraqis, combined to curb looters who have gutted parts of the capital.

Though smoke from the Ministry of Trade, the Rashid Theater of Fine Arts, and offices and apartment buildings was vivid testament that looting and arson continued -- and a 45-minute gunbattle outside the Palestine Hotel was proof that hostilities had not ended -- robbery seemed to have eased in Baghdad, probably because the choicest and easiest booty was gone.

Baghdad residents credited new U.S. Marine patrols with helping scare looters. Patrols were out in many neighborhoods as the Marines spread out after previously concentrating at key spots.

Joint patrols of U.S. troops and Iraqi police were expected to start as early as Monday.

In Basra, the process began with the appointment of a local sheik to head a civilian advisory group. Local residents also suggested bringing back traffic cops to maintain order in the streets, said Lt. Col. Mike Riddell-Webster of the Black Watch Regiment.

"These are not the secret police or the Baath Party. Certainly the locals are keen to have them back," he said.

Restoring a municipal police force is a key first step in helping Basra regain its footing, said Wasfie al-Kanani, an ex-army officer who has emerged as one of the main local figures advising British officers.

"I saw my city being torn apart. People were demolishing the city for nothing. My priority is to help bring the city back to normal and restore order. It will take time, but we have that now," he said.

The British Press Association reported that the British troops and Iraqi police will patrol jointly at first, and then the Iraqis will patrol slightly ahead of the British units. Finally, the Iraqis will patrol alone, and the British will set up positions so they can react if needed.

Al-Kanani said initial meetings have been organized to bring together key local figures in charge of city services such as water, electricity, sewage, education, courts, and police.

The people involved were chosen regardless of whether they were affiliated with the former ruling regime.

"I don't care who was here from before or what he did. If he was not good, the others will judge him later," he said. "For now, we need to show people that order is back."

That will be easier said than done. Water remains a huge problem, since the electric station needed to power the pumps is in constant danger of being looted. Electricity is still not reaching most neighborhoods in Basra.

But throughout the city, a new sense of orderliness was evident -- even where massive water tankers distributed fresh water. About 25 4,400-gallon tankers have been dispersed daily throughout Basra and surrounding areas.

In previous days, thirsty mobs swarmed the tankers. British forces now make residents stand in orderly lines to wait their turn. Long lines of men, women and children carrying plastic cartons, metal washbins and empty oil barrels snaked out along dusty roads Sunday.

"We've had local leaders thank us for this. They say when it's disorderly, it's very undignified for people to squabble over water. They might be poor, but they don't need to be made to feel desperate," said Capt. Alex Cartwright of the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers.

Pushing along his 4-year-old niece in a small cart loaded up with large metal bowls, Abdullah Abaz, 17, approved.

"We must make one queue, so water can be distributed to everyone equally," he said. "This way, everyone can get it."

At the marbled headquarters of the former police station, now badly trashed and burned during the looting, word had spread that the British forces were looking for former police officers. Some 200 men turned up.

Qasim, 56, was one of them, smartly dressed in his uniform and black beret.

"During the looting, there was no power, no control," he said. "My neighbors came to me and asked me to help fight against the bad people. Now I am here to do what I can."