Life in Basra: 'The masked men have vanished, but we're still trapped'

The people of Basra ventured outside for the first time in a week yesterday as the ceasefire declared by the Iraqi Shia leader Muqtada al-Sadr began to take hold.

We heard about the truce on the radio, and there was much less fighting yesterday. At last I began to hope that I can return to my home in Nassariyah from my brother's house in Basra, where I have been trapped since last Tuesday.

One of my nephews, Safa, had begun vomiting a lot, but there was no point in trying to take him to the hospital, all the doctors were very busy. Yesterday Jalil, my brother, took 11-year-old Safa to a doctor who lives about two miles away. I went to see the family of Khalid Hussein, an electrician friend who I grew up with in Basra. He is in hospital and one of his legs has bad shrapnel wounds, he is terrified of losing it.

We heard that Um Hassina, our neighbour's sister, was injured when a rocket hit her home.

A neighbour brought round wheat and some vegetables and there is talk of food distribution, as the shops reopen. But nobody knows if it is just a brief lull in Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's attempt to tame the Mehdi Army of Mr Sadr. The imams in the mosques blamed the government for starting the fight within the Shia community.

The first we knew about fighting was when we were woken by explosions to the north of my brother's house about 4.30am last Tuesday.

I had been supposed to return to Nassariyah and I set off about 11am. But there were so many police and army roadblocks that I turned back. At first, my three young nephews in the house were excited by the noise from the fighting but then they all became scared, and my niece Haniya burst into tears at the explosions.

By the next day, with fighting raging, Dr Haidar who works at the general hospital, said they could not take any more patients. He said 11 people had died after being brought to the hospital and they were mainly civilians. He also said they were running out of medicine. By yesterday, the death toll in the city had risen to more than 210, and people went out to bury their dead.

There was also a lot of mortar and rocket fire. One police station near us was hit by two rockets and some police were injured. We saw armoured cars and tanks on the street. I managed to call my wife in Nassariyah on my satellite telephone to say I was all right but she was very, very nervous and said she could not sleep at night.

Then they brought in a curfew from about 10pm on Thursday but no one went out much and most of the shops were shut. We started to worry about shortages of food, but we had bread and meat and vegetable stew, and some fruit.

We kept as much as possible for the children, while adults survived on bread and tomato paste. But the main worry was the disappearance of clean water, and we had to boil tap water, even though it came out of the tap quite dirty.

The bombing raids by American or British planes began last Friday. We heard three deafening explosions, and I could see big clouds of smoke in the air.

The curfew was lifted for a few hours. I went out, but there was a lot of firing and I could not go very far. I saw a lot of damage, many houses which had been hit. I saw one row of cars with every single one burned out. There was blood and broken glass on the streets.

There were masked men with guns on the street. One of the Shia militiamen put his AK against my chest and shouted "go home, just go home". I did not argue.

The next day, there were more air raids. There were a lot of helicopters, and there were reports about foreign troops in the city, but the firing seemed to be less intense. I spoke to my wife again. She said my children were crying, and then she started crying herself.

On Sunday, we were told they had flown food in, and the curfew was lifted so people could collect provisions. But two mortar rounds landed a few streets away, setting fire to some cars.

Now, the masked men have vanished from the streets. Today, I will try to return to Nassariyah again.

Suggested Topics
Voices
The Sumatran tiger, endemic to the Indonesian island of Sumatra, is an endangered species
voicesJonathon Porritt: The wild tiger population is thought to have dropped by 97 per cent since 1900
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
Story line: Susanoo slays the Yamata no Orochi serpent in the Japanese version of a myth dating back 40,000 years
arts + entsApplying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Life and Style
Popular plonk: Lambrusco is selling strong
Food + drinkNaff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
PROMOTED VIDEO
Voices
News
Gardai wait for the naked man, who had gone for a skinny dip in Belfast Lough
newsTwo skinny dippers threatened with inclusion on sex offenders’ register as naturists criminalised
News
Shake down: Michelle and Barack Obama bump knuckles before an election night rally in Minnesota in 2008, the 'Washington Post' called it 'the fist bump heard round the world'
newsThe pound, a.k.a. the dap, greatly improves hygiene
Arts and Entertainment
La Roux
music
Arts and Entertainment
Graham Fellows as John Shuttleworth
comedySean O'Grady joins Graham Fellows down his local Spar
News
people
News
Ross Burden pictured in 2002
people
News
Elisabeth Murdoch: The 44-year-old said she felt a responsibility to 'stand up and be counted’'
media... says Rupert Murdoch
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Extras
indybest
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Junior / Graduate Application Support Engineer

£26000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly successful international media organ...

QA Manager - North Manchester - Nuclear & MOD - £40k+

£35000 - £41000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: QA Manager -...

Property Finance Partner

Very Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: LONDON - BANKING / PROPERTY FINANCE - ...

Agile Tester

£28000 - £30000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: An ambitious...

Day In a Page

A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

Voted for by the British public, the artworks on Art Everywhere posters may be the only place where they can be seen
Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Blanche Marvin reveals how Tennessee Williams used her name and an off-the-cuff remark to create an iconic character
Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Websites offering your ebooks for nothing is only the latest disrespect the modern writer is subjected to, says DJ Taylor
Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

Edinburgh Fringe 2014

The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

The woman stepping down as chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund is worried