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Conditions Improve in Southeastern Iraq, Says British General

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Dec. 23, 2003 – The security situation in southeastern Iraq "is now relatively stable" and improving daily along with economic conditions, the British general in charge of that area said in Baghdad today.

Maj. Gen. Graham Lamb told reporters that British and other coalition troops in southeastern Iraq have successfully worked with Iraqis to provide security, repair power plants, restore water and sewage services, repair schools and roads, and circumvent oil-smuggling operations.

Lamb, the commander of the Multinational Division (South East) for the past six months, said his mission is "to help to create the conditions" to enable southeastern Iraq "to make a swift and successful recovery" following the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime.

"And we're doing this with the consent and active support of the Iraqi people in the south," he pointed out.

Lamb said his area of responsibility covers a quarter of Iraq at 275 miles wide and 260 miles deep, including 600 miles of borders with Iran, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.

About two-thirds of his 13,000-troop contingent is British, Lamb remarked, with Italian, Dutch, Danish, Romanian, Portuguese, Norwegian, New Zealand, Czech, Lithuanian and Icelandic forces rounding out the command.

He said his troops work in partnership with more than 15,000 Iraqi police officers, 2,000 Iraqi Civil Defense Corps members, a river police service, and a border force of about 1,000 officers.

About 5 million Iraqis live in the region, Lamb remarked, noting that Shiite Muslims comprise about 85 percent of the population.

The Shiites were persecuted during Saddam Hussein's rule, he said, adding that's likely why there's been less trouble in the southeastern region since the fall of Hussein, compared to the so-called Baathist Triangle in the north. Hussein, a Sunni Muslim, had doled out power and favors to his fellow Sunnis in that area at the expense of the Shiites, who comprise the majority of Iraq's Muslim population.

Lamb said most troublemakers in southeastern Iraq are Hussein regime loyalists and not foreigners. Iraqis living there, he pointed out, often report the doings of suspicious strangers to coalition and Iraqi officials.

Coalition and Iraqi forces have also cracked down on illicit activities in the region, Lamb said, noting the shutdown of a major oil smuggling ring in October. Illegal oil barges and ships were netted in that operation, he reported, and almost 300 people were detained.

And, he continued, a copper and aluminum smuggling operation was recently broken up.

Great strides have also been made in restoring the southeast region's formerly decrepit infrastructure, Lamb said, noting there's now enough electric power to export some to the north.

About 80 percent of the city of Basra now has access to running water, the general noted, and a third of the city has a basic sewage system.

Lamb said military, civilian and Iraqi engineers remain busy "repairing water infrastructure, reverse-osmosis plants, and restoring purification facilities to bring drinking water to places that never had it."

About $250 million has been earmarked to restore key oil, power and water facilities in the region, he noted. Millions more have been committed for the repair of power lines, hospitals, clinics and schools.

These and other efforts are geared "to help get the south (east) back on track" and to provide a better life for the Iraqi people, he pointed out.

"All this work continues," the general remarked.

In addition to oil, agriculture is an important part of the regional economy, Lamb observed, noting successful efforts have been employed to regenerate local date palm growing and to protect the tomato yield from recent unfavorable weather.

The city of Umm Qasr and other south Iraqi ports, he pointed out, are "key components in regenerating" Iraq's trade and commerce. Consequently, he added, regular security patrols are conducted in and around the ports and business centers are being set up.

There's been "a real surge in the local economy," Lamb remarked, pointing to the increase in entrepreneurial entities such as car-repair shops and bustling activity in local markets.

Local goldsmiths, stone smiths and carpenters, Lamb pointed out, are also benefiting from southeastern Iraq's economic resurgence. In addition, the general said, "I've wandered around the markets and watched the quality and the quantity of the produce increase month by month."

While Lamb asserted that southeastern Iraq's economy "is doing well," he cautioned, "There's a huge amount still to do."

Therefore, "we're not taking our foot off -- or our (Iraqi) partner's feet off -- of the accelerators," the British general concluded.

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