Iraq crisis: Operation Bolton alarms citizens of peaceful Lancashire town

Colin Brown and Esther Leach gauge responses to the Gulf War codename
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THE CITIZENS are proud of the Wanderers and Nat Lofthouse, but the Lancashire mill town of Bolton would prefer not to go down in history as the British codename for a renewed blitz on Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

"Why not call it Operation Second Chance, because that's what it is, a second chance to deal with Saddam Hussein," said housewife Phyllis Hamer. "I don't think the name of Bolton or any other town or city should be used in this way, it's just not appropriate. Bolton is not an aggressive town and I don't like the idea of it being known for a military operation, however necessary it may be."

Mrs Hamer was echoing the feelings of Bolton South East MP Brian Iddon who is raising the use of the name Operation Bolton with the Ministry of Defence. The MoD says it chose the name at random using a computer.

"We have got pacifists who object to the name of a British town being linked to the name of a potential war. And we have a 20 per cent Muslim population in Bolton. I feel that to avoid any possible controversy, they should not have chosen a place-name," Mr Iddon told The Independent.

Desert Storm - the codename for the Gulf War to expel Iraq from Kuwait - would have been all right. "We have links to HMS Beaver. It could have been called Beaver, Eagle or anything other than Bolton," said Mr Iddon. And he does not agree with his local paper, the Bolton Evening News, that the town should be proud of seeing its name used for the operation.

Others shared Mr Iddon's concern. Frank Whittle, who works for an emergency breakdown service, said the Government should be sensitive to the different ethnic cultures in Bolton. He added: "Many Muslims live in Bolton and they may be upset that the name of their town is used for a military operation like this. Feelings do run high and it may cause some friction.

"It is very important to some people and I don't think the Government appreciates what something as simple as this can mean. We should think of something else, nothing to do with any town or city but perhaps something military."

Some Muslims were offended. College student Asif Patel, 17, said: "Of course it's insensitive. There are many Muslims who live here in Bolton and the Government should realise that."

But Ahmed Patel, 46, a businessman, said although it was insensitive it was not important. He said: "I have talked to many people and we are agreed. We are British first and will support Britain in any conflict. But we don't want any war especially against a Muslim country and hope the dispute will be settled without one."

"You may as well call it Operation Rice Pudding for the difference it makes. It's just not important," said Craig Anthony, a shop assistant. "It's not going to make any difference to Bolton's reputation, except give the town a higher profile maybe, especially if the military action is successful but otherwise it's just a name."

Norman and Evelyn Ward, strolling past the town's war memorial, said they were concerned about the link between military action and Bolton because the town's heritage and reputation was important.

"It's a town known for its mills, an industrial town, not one that goes to war or has an aggressive nature," said Mr Ward, 66. "I don't think any town or city should be used as a name for something like this."

Mrs Ward, 63, added: "I hope Bolton doesn't end up as a target. It's a bit like tempting fate, isn't it?"