By Richard Edwards in Umm Qasr, Southern Iraq
Muddy roads turned to dust tracks; the surrounding sea even sparkled a brilliant blue.
And with the heat came hope – a ship carrying 650 tonnes of aid, the basic beginnings of a brighter future.
In the centre of town a pipe factory reopened and a temporary town council took charge.
A water pipeline and a granary are due within 48 hours, electricity, schools, hospitals and industry will follow.
This is the beginning of a fresh dawn, the birth of the first town in a new Iraq. Colonel Steve Cox, deputy commander of 3 Commando Brigade Royal Marines and temporary Mayor of Umm Qasr, said the area is beginning to take shape.
“People are returning to work, we have some town leaders and rebuilding has begun.
“To see Galahad in dock is highly symbolic. It is a sign that we are in control of this great port.
“It is important to show the rest of Iraq what is happening here to prove there is life beyond this.” When Royal Marines took Umm Qasr five days ago, they found a sprawling, squalid port where everything blended into the same brown-coloured backdrop. They saw an abundance of railway tracks, paved roads and impressive buildings. But its litter-strewn, stark and stenching streets all smacked of neglect.
The people, so happy to see British troops, were still scared.
Captain Ollie Lee of 42 Commando said: “The first thing we had to do was establish security.
“We took to the streets on foot patrols, showing a smiling face and a firm hand.” Within days 20 key Ba’ath party men and criminals had been arrested, their weapons destroyed, their despotic influence crushed.
Now Commandos on patrol have discarded their protective helmets – replaced instead by the famous Green Beret. Captain Lee said: “The most important thing now is the humanitarian aid, because the people are in need.
“It starts on the streets, building confidence, our soldiers giving out rations and water.
“That provides the blocks that the rest can build on.” With Marines on the streets, the people of Umm Qasr at last feel safe.
Yesterday they watched the mighty ship Galahad dock, carrying water, blankets, shelter and food… a symbol of hope for all of Iraq.
No less inspiring, however, was the sight of the doors opening on an ugly, battered, rectangular block factory.
It meant people were returning to work and a degree of normality had been restored. Tomorrow a pipeline from Kuwait will open, distributing 20,000 litres of water to four points in town every three hours.
Then next week a grain ship will dock and bread will become abundant.
Meanwhile, a six-man town council of volunteer doctors and teachers has begun the long process of regeneration.
The infrastructure is here, the transport systems, buildings and two large forts, and so is a will and hunger for change.
Captain Lee said: “We are providing a security envelope in the early stages of regeneration. But the principle behind what we are doing is to empower the population to take control of itself.”