Trouble brews as invaders move on
Americans' rough handling of civilians poses problems
Fresh graffiti on a building in this port town in southern Iraq reads "Down with USA" -- painted over the original "Down with Iraq" slogan from before the US-led invasion.
Residents here say the change in the predominantly Shi'ite Muslim south noted for its opposition to Saddam Hussein, the Iraqi president, has been fuelled by US troops' rough handling of civilians which now poses problems for their British allies.
During the Vietnam war, a popular response to the mantra of winning over the civilian population was "grab them by the balls, and their hearts and minds will follow".
That appears to be the tactics of the forces leading the war in Iraq, except it is US forces who are attacking Iraq's underbelly and British troops being left to make friends after.
The southern Shi'ites also remember how the United States urged them in 1991 to rise up against Saddam's largely Sunni leadership - only to abandon them to brutal suppression of their revolt.
The suspicions are not being allayed by the attitude of many of the US troops here. A regular complaint heard in the part of southern Iraq already under occupation is that US forces -- mostly at the front of advances -- are rude and hostile to civilians caught up in the conflict.
An army the size of that moving through Iraq was never going to creep unnoticed into Baghdad, and there is no doubt that the invading forces are seriously disrupting the lives of ordinary civilians.
But US forces who took the port of Umm Qasr won few friends among the civilian population, and some British troops now charged with setting up a transitional authority complain they are having to undo damage caused by the Americans.
One British officer being given an escort by Marines to his headquarters expressed alarm when they let loose with a volley of rifle fire at a house on the outskirts of the town.
"They said they had been sniped at from there a few days ago so they like to give them a warning every now and then," he said. "That is something we would never condone. You really aren't going to make any friends doing that."
A US special forces officer in Umm Qasr said it was sometimes difficult to contain the exuberance of men doing the actual fighting and sometimes they could overstep the mark.
He said: "You got to realise these guys are single-minded in their training. In the military it is look after yourself and your buddies. Full stop. How do we know who the enemy is ... " But we are doing the main fighting here. There is no room for us to let down our guard."
That role is being left to the British forces who, in the main, are taking up positions once US troops move through.
At many roadblocks mounted by US forces, civilians and journalists moving independently to cover the conflict are dismissed without a word. Surly marines gesture them to turn away and refuse to answer questions.
The British, however, have generally been polite and helpful where possible. Soldiers chat amiably with civilians -- even though neither party has a clue what the other is saying.
"I think it is a question of training," one British officer said. "American soldiers have all the benefits of technology.
"They are single-minded in. their approach. But British soldiers tend to have a more human approach."
The view abroad
"An Iraqi in a taxi containing explosives has become the first known suicide bomber of the war to succeed in taking some of the US invaders with him.
By itself, his attack is simply another bit of bloodletting in this unnecessary war.
But what makes the event so significant is not that it happened, but the way in which Washington has reacted to this slaying of at least four of its soldiers.
The cry has gone up from the American camp that suicide bombings are the acts of terrorists, therefore this attack proves, beyond all doubt, the long-argued American case that Iraq is a terrorist state. Thus, Washington was right all along to invade, and the sooner Saddam Hussein can be put out of business, the safer the world will be. There is none so blind as they that won't see.
This ignorant and deeply stupid analysis just about sums up the level of what seems to pass for serious thought in George W Bush's White House."
- March 31st