By Nick Allen, PA News at Central Command, Qatar
British troops have discarded their helmets and put on their berets in a number of areas which were war zones just days ago.
The “helmets off, berets on” order has now been issued to soldiers patrolling Al Zubayr, Safwan, Rumaila and the port of Umm Qasr.
The policy is intended to help win the confidence of local people as part of the Allied “hearts and minds” campaign.
It is reminiscent of the approach adopted by the British in Northern Ireland and the change is introduced by commanders on the ground after a threat assessment. It can be quickly reversed if necessary.
Military sources said officers on the ground would only tell their forces to patrol in berets when conditions were considered very safe and “no chances” were being taken.
“We’ve been in a very aggressive stance and this is about bringing back a sense of normality to these places,” a source said.
“It’s a recognition of the changed situation on the ground.
“The decision is taken by the commanders on the ground, someone at lieutenant colonel level will be able to do that.”
The move is particularly significant at Al Zubayr, near Basra, where British forces suffered their first combat death of the war.
Later, two Royal Engineers, Sapper Luke Allsopp and Staff Sergeant Simon Cullingworth, were filmed lying dead in the road next to their Land Rover after being ambushed near Al Zubayr.
The shocking pictures were shown on Qatar-based Arabic network al-Jazeera.
Two Kenyan truck drivers attached to the US army were also held captive in an abandoned school at Al Zubayr for 10 days before being freed by British soldiers from the Black Watch.
Having troops without helmets patrolling the town now is considered a major achievement by British military commanders.
The officers bringing in the change say they are drawing on the experience of Northern Ireland and want to “dominate space without having to use force.”
In Umm Qasr, the forces of 42 Royal Marine Commando who have adopted the approach, which also involves discarding body armour, say they are working in a very different way to their US counterparts in Iraq.
One Marine described the US approach as “like cracking a nut with a sledgehammer”.