War is not over yet, warns US

Fresh wave of military fatalities as deteriorating security situation threatens aid programme
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Indy Politics

The United States warned yesterday that the war in Iraq was not yet over.

As US forces discovered the bodies of two soldiers, missing since Wednesday, and a guerrilla ambush killed a further serviceman and wounded four others, a senior American officer warned: "The first clear message that we have to take out of here is that this war is not over. I think that is pretty clear to all of us."

At least 22 American servicemen and six British soldiers have been killed since the war was officially declared at an end on 1 May.

His statement came as 500 British troops went into Majar al-Kabir, the scene of the killings, where they were met by a group of Shia clerics and prominent local officials.

The aim was to put trouble behind them. Captain Guy Winter, the officer who made the initial contact with the Iraqi delegation, insisted: "We are not here for retribution. We are here to re-establish communications and get the process back on the road."

The return of British troops was preceded by the drop of 52,000 leaflets on the town - an attempt to quell growing unrest. The deteriorating security situation in Iraq, however, has now forced aid agencies to review their efforts - with the threat of pulling out.

Sources at Christian Aid said it was "questionable" whether a fresh team of four British aid workers would be allowed to travel to Iraq this week. Oxfam has opted to retain "only a small team of vital workers".

Dominic Nutt, the emergencies officer at Christian Aid, who has just returned from close to Majar al-Kabir, said: "It is fair to say the security situation is deteriorating. Aid workers are being attacked, particularly on highways. The roads are becoming less secure and there is a lot of banditry.

"The distinction between the military and foreign aid workers appears to be disappearing."

Investigations continue into the outbreak of violence which led to the six British deaths and to a further eight soldiers being wounded.

Aid workers in the area claim there is widespread "frustration" among the local people. They have no electricity, and women are forced to walk a round trip of 50 minutes for water in temperatures of 47C. There is impatience that promised local autonomy has not happened and people feel "let down" that they are still governed by British and American soldiers.

Just weeks before the attack in which the British soldiers were killed, one local political leader, Abu Hatim, had told Mr Nutt: "If we don't get what we want from the British troops within a few weeks, people will start throwing stones at them. If we still don't get what they want, they will start throwing bombs."

Alistair Dutton, the emergencies officer at the charity Cafod, also recently returned from Iraq, said people in Basra were "already talking of it as occupation, not as liberation" and "saying that this is having one tyranny replaced by another".