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Christiane Amanpour: Aid as a psychological tool

CNN's Christiane Amanpour in Umm Qasr
CNN's Christiane Amanpour in Umm Qasr

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•  Commanders: U.S. | Iraq
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UMM QASR, Iraq (CNN) -- A ship loaded with 200 tons of aid for the Iraqi people docked Friday at the port of Umm Qasr, in southern Iraq, after delays prompted by concerns about underwater mines. Coalition forces hope that delivering the aid will help them win over the local population.

CNN Chief International Correspondent Christiane Amanpour is in Umm Qasr, and she reports on the anticipated arrival of the humanitarian aid and its significance.

AMANPOUR: It is blazing hot here in the mid-afternoon in Umm Qasr. This port has been the focus of a lot of attention and today this first big ship has come in. The British ship Sir Galahad is bringing in more than 200 tons of food, water, medical supplies and all sorts of blankets and other humanitarian relief that is needed.

It is not just about humanitarian aid for the needy, but also as a very powerful political and psychological tool. For the British, certainly, this war is as much about heavy metal fighting as it is about winning hearts and minds. We keep getting this message every day about how they want to get the civilian population on their side and this is part of that battle.

What they want to do is get the aid out as quickly as possible to people in the town of Umm Qasr, to the villages along the Iraqi border, and then up to the other towns, up to Basra.

Basra is a very delicate and difficult situation right now. We have heard reports from the British military up there that there have been fighters on the outskirts between the British military and these militias who, we have been told, are inside and preventing the people from coming out.

Today we are told that about 2,000 Basra civilians who tried to come out of the town towards the British positions were fired upon by these militias, and then the British started to fire on these militias. The people apparently fled back into the town. There are also some casualties but we simply do not have a grip on just how many there are.

This points to the strategic aim of what is happening here. This aid is meant to go up there and help win the civilian population over -- instill trust, instill a level of comfort and confidence, trying to get them to separate from the political leadership of the Iraqi regime and trying to give them space to rise up, for lack of a better word.

So far, people are saying that they have not the confidence, they do not know who is going to win this fight and right now they are not quite ready to show their cards. That is why we haven't been seeing the mass signs of welcome and liberation that perhaps people in higher places prepared us for.

EDITOR'S NOTE: CNN's policy is to not report information that puts operational security at risk.

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