In Southern Iraq, British Forces Use Cultural Understanding — and Money

In Southern Iraq, British Forces Use Cultural Understanding — and Money

BASRA, Iraq -- Shadows are growing long on the afternoon of Oct. 1 when British Army Captain Steve Morte, 39, strolls into the garden courtyard of a decaying Saddam-era palace-turned-British base in this sweltering city of 2 million. In one sweaty hand he clutches a government-issued receipt book. In the other, $25,000 in cash in a soggy yellow envelope. His grip on the money tightens as he approaches two Iraqi men sitting on a bench, for they are -- or were -- the enemy.

But dealing with erstwhile enemies -- and tolerating cultural mores that seem somehow wrong to Westerners -- is critical to creating a sustainable Iraq out of the bloody morass in this divided country. Ultimately, Iraqis must govern themselves, and they'll do it in their own ways. Increasingly, in the conservative, tribal south, British occupiers are making peace with an emerging Iraq that looks nothing like the United States or Great Britain, but is secure and sustainable all the same.

Morte forces a very believable smile and greets the men in Arabic. They spring to their feet to embrace him. Pleasantries duly exchanged, everyone sits and Morte gets down to business. The Iraqis -- one the son of a powerful sheik in the dangerous Qarmat Ali neighborhood of Basra -- hold an $80,000 contract, issued by the British using U.S. reconstruction funds, to repair street curbs ruined by decades of neglect and by more recent attention by British armored vehicles. Before he can hand over this latest payment, Morte says, he needs proof that curbs are actually getting repaired. So the sheik's son hands over photos of his work and Morte pays them the requisite attention.

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