http://ap.tbo.com/ap/breaking/MGA8FKM5KMD.html In Southern City of Basra, Water, Electricity and British Style Are Key to Peace By Tini Tran Associated Press Writer Published: Nov 3, 2003 BASRA, Iraq (AP) - Under balmy, darkened skies, hundreds of people flood into the evening bustle of Algeria Street, Basra's main shopping drag. Street vendors hawking clothes and second-hand goods mingle with families strolling out for ice cream. Six months after the war ended, southern Iraq's largest city is enjoying a relative peace that still eludes the violence-stricken central region of Baghdad, where 16 Americans were killed Sunday when insurgents shot down a U.S. Army Chinook helicopter west of the capital. Aided by a 24-hour supply of water and power, a less invasive coalition presence, and a Shiite Muslim population that despised the former regime, Basra provides a tantalizing glimpse of a stabilizing model for the rest of Iraq. Even a few months ago, nightfall was the signal that sent residents scurrying behind the safety of their houses. But this city of 1.3 million people has seen a rebirth of commerce and restoration of civil order that has helped nurture a return to normalcy. "We've witnessed a boom in business because the security situation is better," said Ikhlas Ja'afar, 40, who runs one of the city's de luxe air-conditioned ice cream parlors. He sees some 500-600 customers a night, even more on Muslim weekends of Thursday and Friday. For British military forces, who run a multinational command in the southern part of Iraq, stability is closely tied to the availability of basic services. "The majority of our time in Basra has focused on essential infrastructure - fuel, electricity, water. That's interconnected with security," said Capt. Alan Sweeney, 27, with the Queen's Lancashire Regiment. British forces learned that the hard way. In the crippling heat of August, shortages of electricity and gasoline set off furious riots by frustrated residents. British officials blamed the loss of power on looters and the breakdown of a long-neglected neglected power station that, in turn, slowed the refining of fuel. But the mass unrest unnerved coalition officials, who promptly put in $16 million to fix the generators. Since then, Basra has been supplied with constant power. "Once we got those things done, we were able to move on. Now people are concerned with things like employment, sanitation, education. That's indicative of our success," Sweeney said. The British military presence - most visible on foot patrols throughout the city in berets instead of helmets - is also intentionally kept low-key. Sweeney believes the British forces' experience as peacekeepers in Northern Ireland and other conflict zones has made a difference in its Iraqi operations. "We know how to conduct a military operation in a civilian environment. The biggest lesson was knowing that the enemy is only a tiny minority of the population. If you treat everyone like the enemy, then that comes back to haunt you," he said. Troops who arrived after the end of major combat in May all received basic Arab language training, which has been "a big bridge builder," said Sweeney. By contrast, American troops to the north often combat the language barrier by shouting louder in English or making infantry hand gestures seldom understood by Iraqis. Bolstering the coalition is a new Iraqi police force, freshly trained by the Brits to conduct basic patrols and eventually take over security. On a recent evening in Basra, Iraqi police set up a checkpoint along Algeria Street to search for weapons. Stopping all cars, the officers hauled in several knives, a gun, and two young suspects. "The Iraqi police are taking care of this town," said storekeeper Abdul Zahra Mohammed, 52, as he watched approvingly from a sidewalk. "We want Iraqi faces - not British ones." The city hasn't been without violence - tribal warfare has spilled blood and revenge killings have terrorized certain neighborhoods. However, though many residents voiced a desire to see British forces eventually leave once stability is fully established, there is little open resentment against the coalition. For the last two months, there's only been a handful of British casualties - and no deaths. By contrast, U.S. forces in Baghdad and the surrounding Sunni Muslim region, a hotbed of pro-Saddam supporters, have faced a barrage of daily attacks. Nearly 140 U.S. soldiers have been killed by hostile fire since May 1. Basra's residents, on the other hand, had little love for Saddam. The city's majority Shiite Muslim population was harshly repressed by his Sunni minority government. In the postwar era, the once-omnipresent images of Saddam have long-vanished, to be replaced by posters and banners of influential Shiite clerics. Fawzi Abd, 54, a gas station attendant, puts it simply: "We feel much safer now. In Saddam's regime, we were afraid all the time, even in our sleep. Anytime someone could come to your door and take you away. But now we have freedom. We have been liberated," he said. The new freedom is helping to attract an energetic vibe in the city. Newly constructed hotels have sprung up all over town, filled with businessmen from Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, and Jordan, hoping to cash in on opportunities in a new Iraq. Basra's streets are filled with merchants selling furniture and used cars, shipped overland or by ship. The nearby deep-water port of Umm Qasr, 30 miles south, hums with activity as Iraqi wooden boats, or dhows, sail up with goods from Dubai and Kuwait. "This city is alive again," said Saeed Hassan, whose furniture store has watched sales triple in the last six months. "We are safe to do business; we are safe to live our lives."